UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: implications for universities

uk parliament at night
The UK government has reached an agreement with the European Union on a future relationship which took effect from 1 January 2021. The wide-reaching agreement has several implications for universities, their staff and students. Here is an initial summary of what has been agreed. 

What the agreement means for universities

Crucially, the deal includes a clear indication on the UK’s relationship with new EU programmes starting in 2021 (Horizon Europe and Erasmus+) but also other important academic and operational matters for universities need to be aware of. 
It is important to note that, while the overarching ‘deal’ does reduce the likelihood of disruption the sector might have otherwise faced in a ‘no deal’ scenario, some uncertainties remain. UUK will now focus its efforts to ensure disruption is minimised as far as possible by addressing these remaining points of uncertainty. 

The information we have provided is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content on this webpage without seeking legal or other professional advice.  

Research collaboration: Horizon Europe

The UK will participate in the Horizon Europe programme as an associated country (albeit please note, this is subject to a final agreement once the relevant EU legal texts have been finalised). 

This means UK-based researchers will be able to participate in all parts of Horizon Europe, including 
  • Joint Research Centre (JRC) activities, article 185 and 187 partnerships
  • European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)
  • European Research Infrastructures Consortium (ERICs)
  • European Research Area Committee
There was also agreement on UK participation in the Euratom Research and Training programme for 2021–25, which covers the ITER fusion partnership, as well as the Copernicus Earth observation programme.


Student mobility: Erasmus+ and the Turing scheme

The UK government decided not to seek participation in the new Erasmus+ programme. This means students based at universities in England, Scotland and Wales will not be able to participate in the programme when the first call for funding launches. All existing funding that was already granted to UK universities under the previous Erasmus+ scheme is unaffected.
The UK government will instead launch the Turing scheme, providing £100 million in funding for 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements abroad from September 2021. 


Other EU programmes 

There was also agreement on UK participation in the Euratom Research and Training programme for 2021–25, which covers the ITER fusion partnership, as well as the Copernicus Earth observation programme. Additionally, the UK will maintain access to EU satellite surveillance and tracking (SST) services.  

The UK will no longer participate in regional development (also known as structural) funds, such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).  

Immigration rules

The UK and EU have agreed visa-free travel for tourist visits of up to 90 days within a 180-day period. However, there are additional actions which might be required if travelling to the EU for work or study, even for a short period of time. For instance, a visa, work permit or other documentation might be required. Further information can be found on
These new rules do not apply to travel to Ireland, and British and Irish citizens can continue to move freely between the UK and Ireland as part of the Common Travel Area arrangements.


Health insurance

UK nationals with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can continue to use them in the EU until they expire. However, these EHICs can no longer be used in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. 

EHICs will be replaced by a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). This card covers some medical care but is not a replacement for travel insurance.

Data protection and data transfers

A four-month data adequacy bridge has been agreed, with the potential to extend this to six months. This means, for a maximum of six months from 1 January 2021, personal data can continue to flow between the UK and EU (as well as the EEA) as it did before. 

During this time, the UK will have to abide by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is expected that the UK and EU will agree a longer-term adequacy agreement. The interim period ends as soon as the EU’s adequacy decision is adopted by the EC. If the UK during this interim period amends its data protection regime without the agreement of the EU, the interim period shall end immediately.  

Education services and transnational education

The agreement includes provisions for trade in services, movement of natural persons and recognition of professional qualifications. This may affect UK transnational education in EU countries depending on the form of provision and the specific territory. 

Mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ)

The mutual recognition of professional qualifications between the UK and EU has now ended. This means that UK-qualified professionals who wish to supply services in the EU should now seek recognition for their qualifications using the national rules in EU member states, and vice versa. 
Those persons that previously have had their professional qualifications recognised, or that have applied for a recognition decision before the end of the implementation period (meaning that the application was submitted by 31 December 2020), are unaffected.  
Under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, professional bodies and associations have the option to submit joint recommendations for arrangements on the recognition of professional qualification (such as Mutual Recognition Agreements) covering the UK and all 27 EU Member States. Consequently, if such a joint recommendation for the recognition of a professional qualification would be approved, then it would apply to the UK and the EU as a whole. This does not preclude professional bodies or associations in the UK and across Europe to seek other arrangements on a country-to-country bilateral basis.  

Tuition fees 

EU students who start a course in the UK during the 2020–21 academic year are eligible for UK home student fees and financial support, in the form of the tuition fee loan in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Nothing will change for them throughout their degree. 

EU students not covered by the Withdrawal Agreement who start a course in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales during the 2021–22 academic year, and the following years, will no longer be eligible for home fee status and tuition fee loans. 
EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and who meet the relevant eligibility requirements in force at the time of course commencing, will have access to home fee status and student financial support in the 2021–22 academic year. 
For those subject to international fees, the amount will depend on the university and the type of degree and will vary between institutions. We advise EU students to reach out to the universities they are interested in with specific questions on international fee levels for the degree they have in mind. 

Next steps in ratification of agreement  

On 30 December 2020, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission signed this morning the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) on behalf of the European Union. After which the UK parliament passed the bill and the Queen gave royal assent to the bill on 31 December, allowing the agreement to apply provisionally as of 1 January 2021. The EU still has some procedures to complete to ratify the TCA. The European Parliament needs to give its consent and the Council needs to adopt a formal decision on the conclusion of the TCA.  Provisional application will end on 28 February 2021 or on the date the TCA enters into force.  


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