Universities Scotland, which represents Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, and Research Councils UK have recently expressed their concerns that universities and research institutes could lose out on attracting students from Europe if the uncertainty over the future of EU citizens is not resolved soon.
“Whatever arrangement is reached for Scotland and the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the mobility of talent needs to be retained if we are not to become intellectually and culturally impoverished,” a submission addressed to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee said.
In order to maintain the current status, Universities Scotland “expects the UK government to take action,” as director Alastair Sim, director of the organisation, stated. World-class performances are “underpinned by being able to recruit talented academics and researchers from the EU and across the world to work in partnership with those from the UK.”
Universities Scotland calls for the immigration status of existing EU national university staff and students to be confirmed. “Early confirmation of the immigration status of EU nationals already working in the UK could prevent an exodus of talent that would be greatly to the detriment of Scottish higher education, Scotland and the UK,” the organisation’s report said.
The submission also raises concerns that reduction in access to EU funding programmes will pose a threat to the financial resources of higher education institutions. The Herald recently listed the disciplines in UK universities which receive the highest proportion of their total research income from the EU, with archaeology (34.8%) at the top. IT and system sciences, classics, law and philosophy receive between a quarter and a third of their funding from EU Government bodies.
As higher education is the third largest sector in Scotland, a negative impact of Brexit could hurt domestic economy significantly. Shirley-Anne Sommerville, Scotland’s minister for further education, higher education and science, stated: “Brexit is far and away the biggest threat to jobs and long-term prosperity, with the potential to cost the Scottish economy up to 80,000 jobs over the next decade and up to £11.2 billion per year by 2030. But for our world-leading universities and research institutes, the effects could be particularly severe.”
Scotland itself has taken the initiative as John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, promised that EU undergraduate students will still receive free tuition at Scottish universities after the UK leaves the EU. UK ministers, however, have not yet guaranteed that EU students would be granted visas to allow them to stay for the full duration of their courses.
If the UK eventually leaves the EU in 2019, according to government’s plans, this would be halfway through a four-year undergraduate degree that starts next year. The UK government reacted to the claims of Universities Scotland by issuing a general statement. “We will continue to work with the sector to ensure that we get the best deal for the whole of Britain in our negotiations to leave the EU, including for our world-class universities,” a spokesperson said.