Home > Policy and analysis > Brexit and UK universities > ‘No deal’ Brexit: implications for universities and minimising risk

‘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 July 2019

No-deal briefing

See our latest briefing on the immediate consequences of a no-deal Brexit for UK Universities.


There remains a 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:

  • strengthen and clarify its existing underwrites for participation in EU programmes
  • 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 agreement on implementing a 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 entering the UK for more than three months would need to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain and, if intending to stay for more than three years for study or work reasons, 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 be uncertain

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) that UUK has actively lobbied for. 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 has opened fully on 30 March 2019. The planned application deadline will be brought forward to 31 December 2020 in the event of a no deal.

The government has also confirmed the migration arrangements for EU and EEA nationals arriving after exit day in a 'no deal' scenario. These individuals will be able to travel to and enter the UK as now, but if they wish to remain for more than 3 months they will need to register for European Temporary Leave to Remain which will be valid for 3 years. If they wish to stay after their temporary leave to remain expires, they will need to apply for the appropriate permission under the future immigration system.

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 his evidence to a House of Lords EU Home Affairs sub-committee hearing in January 2018, the Universities Minister stated that the government is aware that access to European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions funding would be lost if the UK leaves without a withdrawal deal, and that they are considering options for domestic alternatives to these programmes. 

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 UK government has confirmed that in a ‘no deal’ scenario, it will underwrite Erasmus+ grants already agreed by exit day subject to existing projects being deemed ‘viable’ to continue. This commitment is intended to cover the UK university students on an Erasmus+ placement at the point of Brexit, and any projects that fall under these grant agreements but are yet to start (for example, an outbound student due to undertake and Erasmus+ placement in May which has already been agreed under a 2018 call). However, the underwrite will not cover funding committed to partners and participants in other Member States and other participating countries.  The UK government will launch an online portal in late February/early March 2019 for UK-based recipients of Erasmus+ funding to log details of their grants.

EU student fee status/financial support: governments across the UK have confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019-20 (the first cycle post-Brexit) 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 at an English higher education institution will remain eligible for home status even in a ‘no deal’ scenario. The UK government has also confirmed that EEA students who are currently eligible for home student fees and financial support in English universities will still be eligible for courses beginning in the academic year 2019-20, even in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, announcements for EU students have not been caveated as being subject to a Brexit deal being agreed.

Qualifications recognition: the Brexit White Paper states that the government wants to establish a system on mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ) that covers the same range of professions as the existing MRPQ Directive. The government has also issued a 'no deal' technical notice on professional qualifications. The government has guaranteed that recognition decisions which have already been made by the exit date will continue to be recognised in the UK, and that applications made by (but not assessed by) the exit date will be assessed according to existing MRPQ Directive rules, including potential appeals.

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
  • 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 2019 calls
  • what would be the legal status of Erasmus+ participant and institutional partnerships between UK universities and their Erasmus+ partner universities

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 be
  • setting out its contingency plans for replacing access to single beneficiary Horizon 2020 funds, largely the ERC and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions
  • setting out its contingency plans for replacing access to Erasmus+

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 
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 our briefing.

No-deal briefing 

Read UUK's briefing on the immediate consequences of a no-deal exit for universities and the stabilising policies universities would need to have in place by the time of a no-deal exit as a PDF.

Recommended actions for government and universities 

Read Universities UK's recommendations for government and universities in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit as a PDF.

  1. ​Citizens’ rights and future migration rules
  2. Horizon 2020
  3. Structural Funds (ESIF)
  4. Erasmus+
  5. EU student fee status / financial support
  6. Qualifications recognition
  7. Other matters

No-deal scenario action plan

Read UUK's action plan to help universities plan for a no-deal Brexit scenario as an excel document. 

UUKi/EUA joint no deal guidance for EU and UK universities

Read UUKi/EUA's joint guidance, Brexit: How universities can prepare for a no-deal scenario. 

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. 


Horizon Europe agreement offers strong future for research

12 April 2019
Universities UK (UUK) has given its support to the agreement reached between EU institutions on the future shape of the Horizon Europe programme.

Life-changing research at UK universities could be days away from stalling

19 March 2019
Universities UK is calling on the government to take urgent steps to prevent the UK from losing out on hundreds of millions of pounds worth of research grants if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Support Study Abroad

Universities UK launches #SupportStudyAbroad campaign to protect study abroad in case of no-deal Brexit

6 February 2019
Universities UK has launched a national #SupportStudyAbroad campaign asking the UK government to commit to continue funding study abroad opportunities for UK students, even if the UK cannot negotiate continued participation in the Erasmus+ programme.


"Sorry everyone, but we need to talk about Brexit."

12 February 2019
Universities UK International Director Vivienne Stern on the conversations the sector is having as we head towards the Brexit denouement.


Reaching out beyond Brexit: community engagement at the University of Lincoln

24 January 2019
Being situated in a Leave-voting area hasn't stopped the University of Lincoln from making an impact in the community, writes Professor Toby Wilkinson.