As the deadline for Brexit draws closer, uncertainty remains high among many UK industries, and it appears even the education sector is not exempt from the on-going confusion. Predictions about whether the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal are changing almost daily, and universities are being left in the balance.

According to an in-depth survey on the sector’s preparedness carried out by Universities UK (UUK) on their members, which includes more than 130 higher education institutions, over 80% indicated they are either “very” or “extremely” worried about how a no-deal Brexit may affect them. 

UUK has not been shy in voicing its disapproval of a no-deal scenario, with the organisation saying “a Brexit no-deal scenario is highly undesirable”, adding they hope universities receive fair consideration as political decisions are made in relation to Brexit. The study shows that 52% of the universities said they are “fully” or “very” prepared compared to 48% that said they are “slightly” prepared. Almost all the universities that responded said they have suggested that their students and staff from the EU should consider securing pre-settled and settled status.

Prof Julia Buckingham, president of UUK and Brunel University’s vice-chancellor, said: “While the news that universities feel prepared for no-deal in some capacity is reassuring it is clear that the implications of exit under these circumstances remain largely unknown. 

“It is in the government’s power to alleviate many of these concerns.

“Despite working tirelessly to offset the potential implications of no-deal, such an outcome could leave an indelible footprint on the higher education landscape for years to come.”

UUK also stated: “50% of institutions have experienced a change in demand from EU students, more than 55% have experienced a change in the level of collaboration with overseas partners and almost 60% have lost existing or potential staff members to overseas institutions.”

With some worst-case scenario predictions of a no-deal Brexit suggesting there may be shortages of food and supplies, the survey indicates many universities have started to consider stockpiling essentials. 

Many universities have said they are also worried about the long-term effects of Brexit, especially on student recruitment and research funding.

Jeremy Tanner, director of estates at Birkbeck, University of London said: “I think there is quite a lot of disruption in the sector at the moment and in terms of decision-making behaviour, I suspect many universities now are looking to make decisions beyond the short to medium term on major investments.” 

Mr Tanner’s comments come as numerous institutions are looking at their estate programmes for the coming decade.

Leaving the EU is forecasted to have a damaging effect on research partnership deals with universities within the EU.

Some believe owing to this there will be fewer UK universities ranked within the global top 200 universities league table in years to come. Currently UEA is one of the 28 UK universities that appear in the global top 200 according to the Times Higher Education 2020 rankings. 

However Brexit pans out, EU students coming to UK universities in 2020 will remain eligible for domestic tuition fees and student loans for the duration of their studies. During a meeting of ministers in Brussels in May, Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “We know that students will be considering their university options for next year already, which is why we are confirming now that eligible EU nationals will continue to benefit from home fee status and can access financial support for the 2020-21 academic year, so they have the certainty they need to make their choice.”