The UK University system faces its biggest challenge in 40 years as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. What is the scale of the uncertainty facing universities and to what extent have the problems been exacerbated by the over-reliance on overseas student fee income to facilitate a declining central government investment in research? Is the ‘marketization’ of the Higher Education (HE) sector over the last 20 years partly to blame? We take stock of what universities contribute, why the present pandemic matters and who will be most affected. The potential consequences of Covid-19 for the UK HE sector are analysed along with mitigations, opportunities and possible solutions. It is suggested that the UK HE system cannot continue to be reliant on overseas fees to prop up research.