Like the rest of the country, those of us at UK universities are facing significant uncertainty over Brexit. Those most directly exposed to Brexit risks are, of course, EU students currently studying in the UK. Though both sides of the negotiations have stressed that their rights will be protected, the risk of ‘no deal’ brings an element of unwelcome uncertainty. Plus, even assuming a deal is struck, EU students would still have to apply for ‘(Pre-)settled status’ to ensure their right to stay indefinitely (thankfully, this week the associated fee has been withdrawn). Another key unknown, this time for prospective students from EU countries, is the level of fees they would have to pay from 2020. This could significantly hinder interest from such students in UK universities.
This uncertainty affects the universities’ financial future as well. Many UK universities are financially rather over-extended and are thus reliant on revenue growth to make ends meet. Revenue comes in two main forms, student fees and research funding. As mentioned above, there is much uncertainty both over how much EU students would pay post-2020, and over how many such applicants there would even be, if fees rise sharply. On the funding side, the UK government has guaranteed all funding awarded in the current €70bn (£62bn) European research programme, Horizon 2020, but, beyond that, nothing is certain. The potential risks here are significant since, for many university subjects, up to 30% of their funding comes from EU sources.
All of this uncertainty adds up to a troubling time ahead for UK universities and their students. Some negative repercussions from leaving the EU may have been inevitable, but the lack of clarity about future rules and regulations seems a distinctly unnecessary downside.