With five universities in the world's top 200 institutions, we punch above our weight in the global higher education ring.
Our researchers produce more per head than most other countries, supported by a big share of UK research funding.
I regard the success of our universities as one of many positive reasons for staying with the United Kingdom. We know how attractive it is when those who argue for independence also argue for the retention of UK research funding arrangements. The First Minister tells us none of that would change with independence. Yet the evidence tells us something different.
If we leave the UK we can't demand to keep the best of the UK. Under devolution, EU law allows Scottish universities to keep tuition free for Scottish students, and those from the EU, whilst charging students from the rest of the UK. Assuming an independent Scotland was to join the EU, the EU Commission tells us this would no longer apply. The Scottish Government's own estimates suggest this could cost our universities £150 million a year.
The First Minister rejects this. He is demanding that Scotland should continue to be treated as part of the UK, even if we choose independence and leave. Just as he expects that the EU would accommodate Scottish demands on the euro and the UK rebate, he also expects it to concede on university funding too.
The SNP say the EU would ignore its own rules because of the "unique" position of Scotland and the rest of the UK. They justify what would amount to illegal discrimination against the rest of the UK on grounds that an increase in students from England and Wales could see Scottish universities swamped and our taxpayers left to pick up the tab.
The problem with this argument is that it has been tried in the past and found wanting; not in Britain, but in Austria. In 2005, the Austrian Government introduced new restrictions on EU students wishing to study in that country. This was in response to large numbers of German students choosing to cross the border. A small European country, sought to restrict access to students from its much larger neighbour, despite close cultural ties.
You can see why the Austrians wanted to act. Different entry requirements had led to what some commentators called a "German flood" at institutions across the country. It has been reported that German students comprise up to 80% of each cohort in some subject areas.
The impact of pressure on university places has been clear. One student has already been awarded damages after a court upheld his claim that a lack of places meant his course took far longer than expected.
If the reasons for Austrian action are understandable, the response from the EU Commission was predictable. The Austrian government was told that quotas in almost all courses were not acceptable. The one study area where a time-limited cap on non-Austrian students was accepted was public health, over fears of long-term damage to health services.
Nine years later, the Austrian Government is yet to secure agreement from the EU Commission for the extension of this limited derogation into other areas. What does this mean for Scotland? It means that Alex Salmond's claims of Scottish exceptionalism on tuition fees should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
It means that the warnings from the commission and others over EU rules and university funding cannot be dismissed. It means that serious questions have to be asked about the attitude the SNP would seek to take into negotiations on EU membership in the event of a Yes vote in September.
Thanks to devolution, we already have the power to control student fees in the way that works best for Scotland. We have access to UK-wide funding pots, sharing the risks and rewards that come with being part of something bigger. This is a great positive example of the best of both worlds. We agree with the Scottish Government that we should not charge fees but its policy on independence could bring that to an end.
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