SCOTTISH universities are expected to be “open for business” after the summer holidays despite sending an “SOS” message to the UK Government for financial support amid the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Universities Minister Richard Lochhead told Holyrood’s education committee that the financial model of institutions “has to become much more resilient” amid a reliance on funding from overseas students, but he indicated he did not know what any new model would look like. 

Mr Lochhead told MSPs that he has penned a letter to the UK Government’s Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey, asking whether students could be eligible for Universal Credit as they are unlikely to be able to pick up part-time jobs over the summer. 

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He confirmed to MSPs that the Scottish Government will not be recommending that any universities delay their term times after the summer period. 

He said: “We know that some universities are speaking about maybe delaying the start of term by a couple of weeks here and there – others have still decisions to take. We are waiting for the formal announcements that will be happening relatively soon. That will become clearer in the next week or two and I’m very keen to send that message of confidence to students in Scotland that our colleges and universities will be open for business

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“It is very likely that they will be open for business after summer in some shape or form.” 

He added: “Some universities may stagger certain parts of their operations for a few weeks or a few months. I’m confident they will be open for business in the term after summer. 

“We will not be recommending to universities that they delay their term times – that's a decision for each university. I am confident that most, if not all, of our institutions will be open for business come the new term.” 

Mr Lochhead, who has previously pleaded with the UK Government to make financial support available to universities, has called on the Prime Minister to back his pledge to transform Britain into a “science superpower” - or that ambition will “simply disappear into the ether like a puff of smoke." 

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He added: “If Boris Johnson wants the UK to be a science superpower, if that is to become a reality, we need the UK Treasury to back that.  

“We had lots of warm words before the pandemic about how there’s going to be so much more support for research and innovation throughout the UK – now we need that more than ever. The sector is sending out an SOS. We are dependent on the UK Treasury to help us here.” 

Last week, MSPs heard that Scottish universities could lose hundreds of millions of pounds amid the pandemic, with many relying heavily on tuition fees from overseas students to prop up their finances. But it is unclear at this stage if overseas students will be unable to attend courses next year. 

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Mr Lochhead said: “The financial model has to change, it has to become much more resilient.  

“We have to find a way of tapping into the global reputation our institutions have – our universities are respected throughout the world and understandably, we have capitilised on that as a nation. 

“We do have to look at have a much more resilient financial model and we have to look at how overall, our colleges and universities can be better protected from these global events in the future. There’s hard lessons to learn, yes, but we have been very successful at what we have done.” 

He added: “I’ve not had any institution that has said to me it might have to close because of Covid-19 – they have said they face monumental challenges.”