Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the biopolitical trade-offs inherent to contemporary capitalism are cascading down to higher education. Based on insights derived from theories of digitalized capitalism, this article argues that the emergency shift of educational activities online has much potential to heighten the expropriation of digital academic labour. The net result is an intensification of the master process of digitally driven academic proletarianization. At the same time, the reopening of campuses in countries and regions with high infection rates demonstrably puts academics and others at risk. Both of these developments provide reasons, the article maintains, to support the introduction of universal basic income (UBI). After drawing the crucial distinction between UBI as an emergency response and UBI as an institutionally frame-breaking initiative, the latter – non-emergency UBI – is advocated as a solution to the increasingly binaristic choice between work and life in the neoliberal university and beyond.