‘No deal’ Brexit: implications for universities and minimising risk

Universities UK (UUK) continues to make clear to government that a Brexit ‘no deal’ scenario is highly undesirable. This page sets out the range of implications and mitigations for universities associated with a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome. 

Updated November 2019

New no-deal guidance and resources

Brexit checklist 

Be prepared as possible by reading our Brexit readiness checklist and checking off the suggested actions.

Immigration guidance

This interactive excel file covers key immigration information for providers with staff and students in EU countries post-Brexit, under either a deal or no deal scenario. The guidance covers immigration rules in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Spain.

Transnational education guidance

Universities UK International with Farrer & Co has created guidance on transnational education regulation in nine of the top 10 EU destinations for UK TNE activity: Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, Germany, Spain, Malta, Romania, Austria, and Italy.

New Brexit Webinars

play button.png Erasmus+ in a no-deal Brexit

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UK immigration policy in a no-deal Brexit

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Brexit overview

At present, there is a very high risk that the Brexit negotiations could end without a deal being reached on the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Unless further preparatory actions are taken, or commitments made by government, such an outcome would create immediate uncertainty for EU nationals in UK universities, prospective students and staff from across the EU, and for those participating in any of the Horizon 2020, Structural Funds or Erasmus+ programmes.

Suggested actions to mitigate risk for universities include how government could build on the stability measures it has already put in place for universities that would help minimise any disruption in the event of no deal, to provide greater certainty for the university sector over the coming months. This includes government committing to: 

  • establish back-up structures to mirror Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ where required
  • review how the process of European Temporary Leave to Remain will work in practice, particularly for European students starting courses that are longer than three years in duration
  • establish mechanisms that ensure that UK higher education providers can continue to provide cross-border education services in the EU and that the resulting qualifications are professionally recognised where relevant

There are also several suggested actions for universities to consider.

Even in the event of no deal, UUK wants to see the government work to secure an effective longer-term settlement for universities as set out in our Brexit priorities paper, through dialogue both domestically with the higher education sector and with the European Commission.

What a ‘no deal’ Brexit might mean for universities 

If the Brexit negotiations end without a deal in place, then: 

  • there would be great uncertainty on the scale and scope of the government's enacting of specific commitments agreed as part of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement on continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+
  • there would be no transition period between the date of Brexit and 31 December 2020, during which time it was envisioned that freedom of movement would essentially still apply
  • there would be no certainty on what the UK's future relationship with the EU would look like, including in areas like the mobility of citizens and access to EU programmes

Any impact from a no deal Brexit could result in the following outcomes taking effect on exit day:

  • EU nationals not resident in the UK before exit day would need to apply for an immigration status by December 2020. They will be eligible for the new European Temporary Leave to Remain route granting them 36 months leave to remain. If they intend to stay for more than three years for study or work reasons, they might need to apply for a visa to cover any period of stay beyond three years 
  • the UK would no longer be eligible to receive EU funding through Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ programmes
  • the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications covered by the current EU Directive would cease 

Measures taken by the government to date to provide certainty in the event of no deal

The government has already committed to a number of stability measures beyond exit day (including technical notices). These are set out below. 

EU citizens' rights: the Government has published a policy paper on citizens' rights in the event of a no deal. It confirms that in the event of a no deal, the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to be implemented, enabling EU citizens and their family members living in the UK by exit day to secure their status and continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis after we exit the EU as they do now. The Scheme opened on 30 March 2019. The planned application deadline will be brought forward to 31 December 2020 in the event of a no deal. Only EU citizens living in the UK by 31 January 2020 will be able to apply for the Settlement Scheme.
In a no deal scenario, EU citizens and their close family members who move to the UK after Brexit and wish to stay beyond 2020 will need to apply for a UK immigration status granting them permission to stay. After Brexit, the Home Office will open a new voluntary immigration scheme – the European temporary leave to remain (Euro TLR) Scheme – to provide a route to apply for this immigration status. Applications will involve a simple online process and identity, security and criminality checks. Successful applicants to the Euro TLR scheme will be granted a period of 36 months' leave to remain in the UK, running from the date the leave is granted.

Horizon 2020: In July 2018, the UK government extended a commitment to underwrite payments of Horizon 2020 awards so that it covers grant applications for funding streams open to third country participation (i.e. multi-beneficiary grants) that are submitted after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. In September 2018, UKRI launched an online portal for UK-based recipients of Horizon 2020 funding to log details of their grants. In August 2019, the UK government announced that any Horizon 2020 mono-beneficiary funding applications which are submitted before the UK leaves the EU but which are deemed ineligible after the UK has left will be evaluated and funded by UKRI. This will cover applications to the European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the SME Instrument. In October 2019, UKRI published implementation details for the Horizon 2020 funding guarantee. 

Structural Funds: the same government guarantee of EU funding also underwrites the UK's allocation for structural and investment fund projects under the EU budget period to 2020, and managing authorities will continue to sign new projects until programme closure.  

Erasmus+: the government has agreed to underwrite the payment of awards to all successful UK bids to the Erasmus+ programme which have been signed before exit day, in the event of a no-deal scenario. The government has launched its Grants Management Portal and has provided further technical guidance on accessing the UK government underwrite guarantee. This will allow funding for the mobility of outbound UK students to continue but will not extend to EU students wishing to study in the UK.
In the event of a no deal, the European Commission has also ratified legislation to underwrite the grants of both UK and EU students participating in Erasmus+ who have already begun their mobilities prior to the date exit. Therefore, EU students currently on an Erasmus+ placement at a UK university (and vice-versa) will not be affected by the outcome of the negotiations.

EU student fee status/financial support: governments across the UK have confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019–20 and in 2020–21 will still be eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules. 
In England, Chris Skidmore MP, the Universities Minister, has confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019–20 and in 2020–21 at an English higher education institution will remain eligible for home status even in a no-deal scenario. The Welsh government has confirmed that the same EU student fee status and financial support arrangements will continue in 2019–20 and in 2020–2021.
Scotland has confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019–20 and in 2020-21 will be eligible for free tuition, even in a no-deal scenario. For Northern Ireland, the government has also confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019–20 or 2020–2021 will be eligible for home fee status even in a no-deal scenario.

Qualifications recognition: in a no-deal scenario, the current mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ) system between the EEA, Switzerland and the UK will cease. A new qualification recognition system will operate after Brexit. The government has confirmed that recognition decisions taken before 31 January will remain valid after Brexit, and that, "as far as is possible", applications made by but not concluded by Brexit day will continue to be assessed as per existing MRPQ rules.

Remaining areas of uncertainty and recommended actions 

Despite the above measures, there remains a substantial amount of uncertainty and unanswered questions for universities should the UK face a no deal outcome. This includes a lack of clarity on:

  • how the process of European Temporary Leave to Remain will work in practice, particularly for European students starting courses that are longer than three years in duration
  • what replacement, if any, will be put in place in lieu of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • how the government's underwrites would work in practice, including what specific actions universities will need to take before exit day to ensure that they are fully eligible to access any replacement funding 
  • whether UK universities could access replacements to mono-beneficiary parts of Horizon 2020, such as the European Research Council (ERC) 
  • whether a replacement to Erasmus+ would be made available to UK universities to cover bids made by universities in the 2020 call and beyond.

Based on these areas of uncertainty, UUK suggests a number of actions that government should take to ensure stability across the university sector in the prospect of 'no deal', including:

  • reconsidering the policy of European Temporary Leave to Remain in order to provide reassurance to EU students starting courses that are longer than three years in duration 
  • clarifying how the underwrite for EU grants will work in practice, including who will administer funds/make funding decisions and what would be required of universities in receipt of funds. There needs to be clarity on what the measures of success would besetting out its contingency plans for replacing access to Erasmus+ and mono-beneficiary funding streams in Horizon 2020 if association to future EU framework programmes is not possible.

Further, UUK suggests that universities consider taking the following action in order to prepare for a possible no deal scenario: 

  • speaking with European partners regularly to share understanding of the impact of no deal and collaboratively plan for such an outcome
  • being mindful of how courses are described to prospective students in terms of fee/loan status and qualifications recognition 
  • communicating with EU prospective students and staff with regards to future directions for immigration, focusing on the European Temporary Leave to Remain route, and what this would mean for these groups in practice
  • working with existing staff with non-UK nationalities and considering communication to this group around the publication of the EU Settlement Scheme 
  • mapping which Erasmus+ placements will be able to be funded through the European Commission's regulation or the UK government underwrite guarantee.

These suggested actions are set out in more detail in our briefing, covering: EU citizens' rights and migration rules; participation in the Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and Structural Funds programmes, and on student fees and qualifications.  

Other matters 

There are additional issues requiring consideration in preparation for a no deal scenario. This includes: 

  • procurement, supply chains, commercial contracts
  • funding, cash flow, tax/VAT
  • banking relationships, access to EU payment systems
  • travel arrangements between the UK and EU
  • travel and health insurance for students and staff
  • data protection and transfers of data
  • intellectual property
  • recruitment
  • energy/participation in Euratom and other programmes
  • regulation
  • recognised professional qualifications held by staff 

UUK is working with universities and sector organisations to develop information in these areas. Further information can be found in A "no-deal" Brexit: Implications for universities and minimising risk (PDF).


Updates, comments and questions

This page and supporting documents will be updated as and when required, including when relevant government announcements are made, or actions taken, that address areas of uncertainty, but also based on Universities UK members’ feedback. 


UUK response to announcement on changes to home fee status from 2021/22

23 June 2020
​In response to the UK government's announcement that EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status from 2021/22, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

​Time is running out to save Erasmus+: Losing study abroad scheme would blow a hole in UK economic prospects

9 March 2020
More than 17,000 UK university students are hoping that the UK Government can negotiate continued involvement in Erasmus+ in its trade discussions with the European Union so they can develop important and necessary skills overseas next year.

Universities UK response to UK-EU trade negotiations proposals

27 February 2020
​Today (Thursday 27 February), UK Government has set out its position for UK-EU negotiations over future trade agreements, with student mobility and research programmes an important part of the discussions.


Brexit day is here; but where next for the UK's immigration system?

31 January 2020
On the day that the UK leaves the European Union, UUK's Karmjit Kaur sets out what immigration reforms are needed to ensure the system is fit for purpose.

General election 2019: what the parties say on higher education

27 November 2019
UUK's Karmjit Kaur takes a look at the policy commitments on higher education in party manifestos ahead of the general election.