No-deal Brexit: Universities stockpiling toilet roll over fears UK will crash out of EU

Institutions have serious concerns about impact on recruitment and research, survey finds

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 15 September 2019 19:17
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An employee stocks toilet paper along an aisle of an Asda store in Kendal, northwest England.
An employee stocks toilet paper along an aisle of an Asda store in Kendal, northwest England.

British universities have begun stockpiling supplies – including toilet roll and food – amid fears that the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

More than four in five (82 per cent) universities in the UK have serious concerns about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their institution, according to a study by Universities UK (UUK).

The survey, of 75 institutions, found that two in five (41 per cent) of the universities said they had either prepared, or had considered preparing, stores of essential supplies ahead of a no-deal Brexit.

IT equipment, science products, non-perishable foods and loo roll are being stockpiled by universities in case there are shortages after Brexit, UUK said.

Asked where a no-deal Brexit could have the most significant impact, 32 per cent cited student recruitment and 27 per cent said access to research programmes and funding could be hit hardest.

Meanwhile, just over one in 10 (11 per cent) think there will be issues with contracts and supply chain and around 9 per cent said the most significant impact would be staffing issues.

Overall, nearly one in five (19 per cent) are extremely concerned about the possible effect of a no-deal exit, while 63 per cent said they are “very concerned” about the possibility.

Universities say they are already feeling the potential effects of Brexit – with nearly 60 per cent of surveyed institutions saying they have already lost staff to overseas institutions and 50 per cent saying they have experienced a change in demand from EU students.

However, all the institutions surveyed said they were prepared for a no-deal “to some extent”.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK president, said it was “reassuring” that universities feel prepared for a no-deal in some capacity.

But she said: “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.

“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.”

Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, said: “Boris Johnson’s reckless no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for our universities.

“Nearly one in five university academics are EU nationals and they all face uncertainty and anxiety about their future.

“A chaotic and damaging no-deal Brexit will also have a devastating impact on the ability of our universities to recruit students from EU countries and access research funding.

“Yet the new education secretary has been unable to give universities even the most basic reassurance that he has any credible plan.”

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Addressing vice-chancellors last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part of schemes such as Erasmus+.

“But we have to prepare for every eventuality and it is sensible to consider all options.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are pleased to see that universities are being diligent in their preparation for leaving the EU.

“We have confirmed that EU nationals and EEA Swiss nationals will continue to be eligible for home status tuition fees and student finance for higher education courses starting in 2020-21 – for the duration of their courses.”

They added: “We have committed to raise the investment in research and development and maintain the UK’s position as a science superpower in a post-Brexit world.

“We have also confirmed that we will underwrite Horizon 2020 funding for eligible, competitive bids to provide clarity and assurance to businesses and universities.”

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