In a new priorities statement on Brexit, Universities UK has, however, called for urgent clarity on a number of areas affecting universities. This includes the status of EU students coming to the UK after 2019 and the UK's long-term participation in EU research and innovation programmes and the Erasmus+ scheme.
Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said: "The transition deal means we will avoid the cliff-edge that many, including universities, had feared.
"The phase one Brexit and transition agreements provide much needed certainty for the nearly 50,000 EU nationals working across UK universities, who are now clearer on what their post-Brexit rights will look like. It is important that these rights are enshrined into UK law as soon as possible. These staff make an immeasurably important contribution to the work of our universities.
"Researchers in the UK will continue to be able to participate in the EU's important research framework until 2020. And students will be able to continue in the Erasmus+ exchange programme, also until 2020.
"Longer term, it is vital that the final Brexit deal secures UK participation, as a full associate country, in the next EU research innovation programme and the successor Erasmus+ scheme. There is also an urgent need to confirm the fee status of EU students starting courses in 2019. EU students are already asking about 2019 study, so it is crucial now that this is confirmed by governments across all parts of the UK.
"Universities UK will continue to work with UK governments and officials in Brussels to secure an effective post-exit settlement for universities."
The new Brexit statement paper – How can government ensure universities are best-placed to maximise their contribution to a successful, global UK post-EU exit? – is available to download.
There are nearly 50,000 (49,530) EU staff working in UK higher education institutions (latest HESA data – 2016/17). This represents 12% of the total staff population of 419,710. This is broken down to: 17% of total academic staff at UK universities, or 35,920, are from other EU countries. Among professional services staff at UK universities, 6% or 13,610 are from other EU countries.
The Higher Education Workforce Survey 2017 from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) revealed that two-thirds of universities had said that the EU referendum had had no impact, to date, on their ability to recruit staff from the EU.
The UK is host 134,835 students from other EU countries (latest HESA data – 2016/17). Currently, all universities are unable to provide answers to EU students enquiry about 2019–20 entry. We know that 80% of students first register an interest in studying abroad more than 12 months in advance of actual enrolment. With students already enquiring and prospectuses printed for the 2019–20 cycle in early 2018, the need for clarification across the UK is urgent. The Scottish government has already confirmed (1 February 2018) the fee status of non-UK EU citizens who come to Scotland to study for an undergraduate degree in 2019-20.
For more detail on what December's, phase one Brexit agreement means for universities, Alistair Jarvis (Chief Executive of Universities UK) wrote a comment article for Research Fortnight: Now the real work begins