Funding for local authorities is based on population data gathered from the CensusN CHADWICK/GEOGRAPH

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has warned in a statement to Varsity that “missing students” from Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University due to the coronavirus pandemic could skew Census data, potentially affecting Cambridge’s funding.

The Census is to be held on Sunday 21 March 2021. It happens every 10 years to provide information on “all the people and households in England and Wales.” Due to the pandemic, it is being run as a “digital-first census”, so it is expected that the majority of people will complete the census form online, whereas only 16.5% were completed online in 2011.

Zeichner expressed concerns in his statement about as many 35,000 students going uncounted due to their absence, which he argues would result in the loss of vital funding for the city.

Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope told students that Lent Term would be held online following the announcement of a third national lockdown in January. The Collegiate University has remained open, with students returning to College accommodation after the Christmas break, but many are still residing at home.

According to the Office for National Statistics, which runs the Census in England and Wales, the purpose of the Census is to provide “an accurate count of the population” which is used to apportion government funding for “each local authority and health authority.”

The data is also used by local authorities to plan their allocation of funding for “transport, education and healthcare.” The ONS emphasises the importance of this function, with local authorities using data on age demographics and the prevalence of long-term illness in their population to plan and fund health and social services.

The Census 2021 website instructs students to complete a census form for “both their term-time and their home address.” They specify that “term-time address” includes “a hall of residence that you had planned to stay at for this academic year and have a contract for, but you are not there because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic”.

Addressing the House of Commons on 22 February, Zeichner questioned the realism of the expectation that the census would produce “accurate figures” given that it is to be conducted “in the middle of a pandemic”.

Zeichner emphasised the markedly different atmosphere in Cambridge in his press release, saying “This isn’t a normal time.” He called for the government to acknowledge and counteract “the Cambridge pandemic population shortfall” which could otherwise result in funding deficiencies for essential everyday services.