Global roundup of COVID-19 support packages for higher education providers and students

Expert Insight

Global roundup of COVID-19 support packages for higher education providers and students

As governments around the world scramble to respond to COVID-19’s financial impacts, many countries have introduced relief packages for their respective tertiary or higher education sectors. In most instances, government relief accounts for just a fraction of universities’ expected losses. Higher education providers in some countries are receiving no direct emergency funding at all, with policy changes making up the bulk of government action. To make sense of the different support packages and policy changes affecting HEIs, EAB has put together a short summary of where universities stand in terms of relief in different corners of the globe.

The chart below provides a high-level snapshot of what each government support package does—and does not—provide local higher education providers.

Support package componentAustraliaCanadaNew ZealandUnited KingdomUnited States
Direct funding to universities to cover COVID-19 expensesXX
Dedicated aid for minority-serving institutions or minority groupsXX
Support for furloughed university staffXX
Direct funding to studentsXX
Policy changes to student loan and grant schemesXXX
Some funding earmarked to support research effortsXX

Expand the list below for a more detailed summary of each country’s HE support package

  • Australia’s higher education relief package was announced on 12 April 2020. It provides higher education institutions with a cash infusion, guaranteeing funding for universities across 2020 based on projected enrolments from 2019, regardless of changes in enrolments due to COVID-19. However, the funding is based on levels of domestic students who qualify for government-subsidised tuition fees. There is no guaranteed funding to replace the significant loss in revenue from a decline in international student numbers.
  • The government will advance student loan repayments to HE providers based on 2020 projections, with the caveat that the repayment of excess advancements will be deferred to 2022-2029.
  • Aimed at supporting a broader swath of the Australian workforce, funding has also been set aside for HEIs to offer heavily discounted tertiary certificate programmes. Providers have been asked to develop six-month certificates in fields of national priority (e.g., health, science, and IT) that can begin in May 2020. For providers that develop these short courses, government subsidies will cover costs above the student fee contributions via a subsidy
  • The Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) is a C$9 billion programme announced on 29 April 2020. It provides direct support to students, policy changes to the Canada Student Loans Programme, a student service grant, and fellowship extension for graduate students.
  • Direct payments are designed to replace students’ lost summer income from May through August and are available for all current students, students who graduated after December 2019, and students who plan to begin university study in September. The Post-Secondary Student Support Programme, which provides financial transfers to indigenous communities to support students in post-secondary education, will receive additional funding.
  • A ‘service grant’ will provide students who participate in voluntary national service in their communities with up to C$5k towards education next academic year. Students’ grants will depend on the number of hours volunteered.
  • Policy changes to the Canada Student Loans Programme for 2020-21 increase the maximum levels for grants and loan limits.
  • If set to expire, scholarships, fellowships, and grants for graduate students will also be extended three to four months

  • The NZ$133 million Tertiary Student Support Package was adopted on 14 April 2020 and introduces changes to governmental loan schemes to help students cover costs and continue their studies. The package is available to all full-time domestic students currently enrolled or planning to enrol in a course.
  • The package temporarily raises the ceiling for student loans for course-related costs. Students who are unable to study online will be eligible to receive loan payments as normal for up to eight weeks (covering the four-week lockdown period and four additional weeks).
  • The government has also enacted policy changes allowing students unable to continue their course to retain the guaranteed one free year of tertiary study. Students who receive partial tuition fee refunds because of discontinued courses due to COVID-19 will still be entitled to student loans in the future.
  • On 4 May 2020, the government announced a support package for universities and students. The package is policy-focused, making changes to regulations related to student recruitment and accelerating providers’ access to funding already in the system.
  • £100 million in quality-related research funding will be brought forward to the current 2019-2020 academic year, to ensure that research activities can continue during the on-going crisis.
  • Tuition fee payments that are covered by the governmental loan scheme will be brought forward as well. Universities will be able to access all of these funds, rather than the usual 25% cap, at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • To minimise harmful competition in the sector, enrolment caps will be temporarily reintroduced for the 2020-2021 academic year, limiting the number of full-time domestic students that providers can recruit to a set level of 5% above their forecasts. The government will also have the discretion to allocate 10,000 additional places across providers, half of which will be earmarked for health courses.
  • Outside of the university support package, universities are also eligible to access government COVID-19 schemes, e.g., business loan support, and a job retention scheme that covers 80% of furloughed staff salaries and national insurance and pension contributions.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into US law on 27 March 2020. The $2 trillion relief package funnelled $17.75B to higher education in the form of emergency funding, modified financial aid rules, and funding for research programmes.
  • 50% of the emergency funding is earmarked as student financial aid for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations (e.g., housing, food, or childcare). The remainder of the emergency funding can address other costs incurred by the institution due to COVID-19 (e.g., during the shift to online instruction). Additional relief is provided to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).
  • Existing financial aid policies have been relaxed to provide direct relief for students. For example, Federal Work-Study students can continue to receive wages even if they are unable to perform job functions due to COVID-19 disruptions. Federal student loans have been suspended for six months, and interest accrual has been halted.
  • Federal research agencies have access to additional funds used for research to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. However, no additional funds are earmarked to make up for the costs of other university research disrupted by COVID-19 closures.

The burning question around the globe—what comes next for the sector, when the government support packages are not enough?

While some government support packages go further than others in offering direct relief to providers and students, there is a common sentiment from HE leaders in every profiled country that more support is necessary. Of course, whether that support will be forthcoming is an entirely different matter. Consequently, most institutions will be taking a hard look at their cost model in the coming months. Make sure to prepare your stakeholders now by communicating plans early and often.

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