Professor Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews, has warned that Scottish independence could be “catastrophic” for University funding.
In an interview with The Times published on 2 March, Professor Richardson said: “If we were cut off from national research councils, it would be catastrophic for this university. We would lose top academics. We would fail to attract serious academics.”
The Principal questioned proposals by the SNP government to discontinue funds from Research Councils UK.
“The government would suggest that we needn’t worry, that this could be resolved and the aspiration is that we might be allowed to buy into the English councils, while at the same time establishing a small Scottish one. David Willets (The UK Universities Minister) has recently challenged that assumption,” she said.
Professor Richardson warned that the SNP’s plans to create a research council could result in politically-influenced research projects. She said: “If Scotland were to set up a research council, it would be very difficult in this small country for all the decisions to be made on the basis of excellence alone. We acknowledge that the Scottish government is working hard to this issue.”
The government is set to publish proposals which it hopes will abate concerns about university research budgets. A government spokesman told the that BBC the proposal would seek to maintain academic research from Scotland.
Another concern of Professor Richardson’s is that independence will create a gap in funding from English students, who currently pay £9,000 a year in tuition. If Scotland were to become independent, English students would be considered under the same provisions that allow the Scottish government to cover the tuition of EU students.
The Principal also addressed the topic of widening access. “I understand the need for access, but we don’t need the government to tell us. We are utterly committed to widening access,” she said.
Regarding the warning of Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, that universities need to admit more disadvantaged students Professor Richardson said: “I don’t think bureaucrats should be setting targets. Articulate the principles and we will observe them.”