Implications of a “no deal” Brexit for students at UK universities
Following the “historic defeat” of PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal at the hands of the UK House of Commons – whose members overwhelmingly voted against the deal by the devastating margin of 432 to 202 – the possibility of a “no deal” Brexit seems higher than ever before, meaning a scenario in which the United Kingdom would leave the European Union immediately on 29 March 2019 with no agreements in place about what their relationship would be like in the future. Effects of a “no deal” Brexit could include the re-introduction of border checks, a severe disruption of transport and trade between the UK and the EU, compatibility issues between UK and EU drivers’ licenses – possibly requiring a special driving permit – and the lack of a transition period in the entry into force of the new rules governing the relationship of the UK and the EU.
Without further preparatory actions or commitments made by the UK government, a “no deal” Brexit 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. According to advocacy organisation Universities UK, if the Brexit negotiations end without a deal in place, then:
- there is going to be a general uncertainty on whether any commitments agreed as part of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights and continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ still apply,
- there would be no agreement on implementing a transition period between the date of Brexit (29 March 2019) and 31 December 2020, during which time 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,
Furthermore, a “no deal” Brexit could result in the following outcomes taking effect after 29 March 2019:
- EU nationals entering the UK could be treated as third country nationals, subject to non-EEA immigration rules and requirements,
- the UK’s ability to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ could cease, because there would be no legal obligation for the UK to pay any financial settlement on exit,
- the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications covered by the EU Directives currently in force would be uncertain.
The UK government has already put in place a number of stability measures for universities that Universities UK and other advocacy organizations in the field of education have lobbied for. These measures include a policy paper on citizens’ rights in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, confirming that the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to be implemented after 29 March 2019, allowing EU citizens and their families living in the UK to continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis as they do now. Regarding the migration arrangements for EU and EEA nationals arriving after 29 March in a “no deal” scenario, the government confirmed that the individuals in question will be able to travel to and enter the UK as now, but if they wish to remain for more than three months, they will need to register for the European Temporary Leave to Remain which will be valid for three years.
With regards to Horizon 2020 funding, the UK government extended its commitment to underwrite payments of multi-beneficiary Horizon 2020 grants (i.e. those open to cooperating participants from multiple countries) awarded to UK-based applications submitted after the UK leaves the EU; however, the government is aware that access to the funding of mono-beneficiary grants (such as European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions) will be lost in the case of a “no deal” Brexit. Similarly, projects originally funded by EU Structural Funds will be underwritten by the UK government until the end of the current EU budget period (in 2020) with the UK authorities continuing to sign new projects until programme closure. In the case of a “no deal” scenario, the UK government will also underwrite Erasmus+ grants agreed before 29 March 2019, covering 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.
EU students starting a course in the higher education institutions of the UK in 2019–20 (the first cycle post-Brexit) will remain eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules, even in the case of a “no deal” Brexit. On the topic of recognition of qualifications, the government stated that it wishes to establish a system on mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ) that covers the same range of professions as the existing EU Directive.
Universities UK has suggested a scope of further governmental actions to mitigate risk for universities, building on the aforementioned stability measures, that would help minimise any disruption in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, to provide greater certainty for the university sector over the coming months. This includes the government committing to:
- make no substantive changes to rules governing EU migration until 1 January 2021,
- strengthen and clarify its existing underwrites for participation in EU programmes,
- establish back-up structures to mirror Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ where required.
Through its general commitments, the UK government should also work on clearing up the main areas of uncertainty faced by universities in the case of a “no deal” outcome. Universities UK has suggested the following specific actions that the government should take to mitigate uncertainty and to ensure stability across the university sector in a “no deal” scenario:
- 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 receiving funds,
- setting out its contingency plans for replacing access to single beneficiary Horizon 2020 funds, including the European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions,
- setting out its contingency plans for replacing access to Erasmus+.
The briefing of Universities UK on the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit can be read in full HERE.