The higher education sector faces a massive £2.5 billion funding 'black hole' which could see thousands of job losses if the government does not step in.
A recent report by London Economics, for the University and College Union (UCU), warned that 111,000 fewer UK and 121,000 fewer international first-year students will attend courses in September, resulting in billions of lost tuition fees income.
The report estimates 30,000 university jobs at risk, with a further 32,000 jobs under threat throughout the supply chain.
Not included in the report was the current losses for the sector from activities like summer conferences and accommodation. The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted a 90% reduction in education output this quarter alone; a greater loss than any other sector.
Yet, despite mounting pressure to provide financial help, the treasury has this week confirmed it will not give any new money to the sector. Instead, the government has announced it will allow universities to continue to charge full tuition fees, even if the campuses remain closed and teaching is delivered online.
In reality, this means passing the cost of the crisis on to students who already pay extortionate fees which saddle them with a lifetime of debt.
The announcement means students starting in September could be paying £9,250 a year for remote courses, thrown together in a matter of weeks, without the physical resources like library books.
The quality of education has already been eroded by more than a decade of marketisation, slashing quality and workers' conditions, to increase profits. Now, students are expected to continue to pay outrageous fees for even further reduced quality of education.
In comparison, the Open University, which delivers all its degree courses online, recently announced it spent two years developing a new online course.
The likelihood is this announcement will push more students to defer their place until it is safe for them to physically attend, causing an even greater financial impact for universities.
The universities are playing a leading role in Covid-19 research. If universities were nationalised and run as a public service, not a business, then a fluctuation in student numbers would not be an issue. If democratically run by staff and students, universities could focus on excellent research, teaching and collaboration rather than competition and vanity projects.
But even if the government continues to refuse financial help, the universities have reserves and other assets they could use. Some universities have announced they will continue with expensive new buildings while slashing staff numbers.
The UCU must now mount a determined and co-ordinated campaign, including strike action if necessary, to protect jobs.
Meanwhile, students should not pay the cost of the higher education crisis. They should join with UCU activists and Socialist Students to campaign for universities to be run democratically by staff and students under public ownership.