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UK university finances put at risk by Brexit

Graduates fling their rented mortarboard hats into the air after their graduation ceremony. Photo: Richard Baker / In Pictures for Getty Images

British universities are facing “one of the biggest threats” to their financial viability due to Brexit, according to 150 university leaders.

The heads — including leaders from the Russell Group, Guild HE, Million Plus, Universities UK and University Alliance — sent a letter to all MPs warning that it could take the institutions “decades to recover” from the fallout from Brexit.

They give two examples of funding that could be lost from a no-deal Brexit: the European Research Council and Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Actions, which are worth around £1.2bn ($1.5bn) to universities over the next two years. In 2020, European research funding amounting to £90bn is also on offer to EU universities.

The UK government has committed to providing funding for existing projects that have been funded by European Union (EU) research schemes.

Another financial headache could be caused by the government’s white paper on migration. Published before Christmas, it proposes new restrictions on EU students, a key source of income for UK universities.

The paper proposes that universities would be responsible for sponsoring and securing visas for EU students, who number around 130,000 each year.

There are concerns that some universities in England may not be financially viable if they cannot attract enough students from overseas.

READ MORE: UK house prices take pre-Brexit hit

Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, said that any decline in income arising from Brexit could see some universities come “close to the wire this year”.

Hillman believes that could lead to bailouts of distressed universities, as well as mergers and takeovers.

The Russell Group of universities says that data showing a 3% decline in EU student intake suggests that uncertainty over Brexit has caused drop in applications.

Dame Janet Beer, President of University UK, said that “time is running out” for the government to provide “cast-iron assurances” over access to European research networks, leading researchers to move to countries with access to more funding.