The government must secure funding, protect jobs and guarantee that no college will "go to the wall", the University and College Union (UCU) has said in an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson today.
The UCU writes that the UK could "ill afford to throw thousands of teachers, researchers and professional support staff on the dole at a time when education will be a key driver of recovery".
The letter says colleges and universities need immediate support to ensure they can help lead the recovery when the coronavirus crisis is over.
It calls for a “clear and coherent plan” and sets out seven proposals it says will ensure colleges and universities can retain academic capacity now and help build for the future.
Background: UCU: Support college staff on insecure contracts
In order to protect institutions, UCU says the government has to guarantee funding for colleges and universities at current levels, and protect the additional funding already earmarked for research and further education sector jobs and salaries.
To secure jobs and salaries, UCU asks for urgent confirmation that furlough arrangements will apply to all staff – including those on insecure contracts – and for the one-year visa extension for NHS staff to cover visa holders working in colleges and universities.
The union says “wasteful and unproductive” competition between, and within, the university and college sectors had to stop. Colleges and universities need to work together to agree sector-wide timings for the resumption of teaching and work with the union and other stakeholders to deal with issues such as protecting the integrity of exams and assessment, and ensuring a fair and robust admissions system.
Looking to the future, the union says that the government needs a recovery plan for education that prioritises lifelong learning and reverses years of cuts to adult education.
UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: "We need a clear and coherent plan from the government that guarantees funding and jobs to protect our academic capacity. The country can ill afford to throw thousands of teachers, researchers and professional support staff on the dole at a time when education will be a key driver of recovery.
"Furlough arrangements should apply to all staff – including those on insecure contracts – and the government should extend the one-year visa extension for NHS staff to cover people working in our colleges and universities. The government should underwrite funding at current levels and guarantee no institution will go to the wall.
"In return for government commitments on funding, we need colleges and universities to work together in the national interest and abandon wasteful and unproductive competitive behaviour.
"Any recovery plan needs to put lifelong learning at its heart and reverse the years of cuts we have seen to adult education. We also need to reassess the reliance on casual staff in our colleges and universities."