THE full scale of the devastating impact of Brexit on Scotland's universities can be revealed today - with warnings that the nation's “world-class” reputation for outstanding education is at risk.
Higher education institutions fear there could be an “exodus” of skilled academics if the uncertainty over the future of EU nationals is not resolved soon.
Scotland will be left “intellectually and culturally impoverished” if it loses out on talented staff while future generations of students will also be damaged if they miss out on the opportunity to study or work in Europe.
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Brexit also poses a real risk to the research sector, it is claimed, with disciplines such as IT and the law – which have the highest proportion of research income from EU bodies – under most threat. Other subjects under threat include archaeology and classics.
The fears have been raised in written evidence submitted by Universities Scotland – which represents Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions - and Research Councils UK to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.
The committee is currently holding an inquiry examining options for Scotland's place in Europe after it voted to remain in the EU referendum.
The Scottish Government said it was a “clear verdict” on the devastating effects of leaving the EU on Scotland’s higher education sector and called on the UK government to hold “meaningful” discussions over the issue.
The Universities Scotland evidence warns that it is essential that EU nationals be allowed to remain working in Scotland after Brexit in order to continue attracting the right “highly-skilled talent”.
“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,” it added.
It also calls for the immigration status of existing EU national university staff and students to be confirmed well in advance of Article 50 being triggered, warning that the current uncertainty is putting the careers and personal lives of more than 4500 “highly valued staff” in unnecessary doubt.
“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 submission said.
The submission warns there will be damage to the “next generation of graduates, and our future workforce” if they are cut off from opportunities such as the Erasmus exchange programme, which allows students to travel across Europe to study.
And it says Brexit also poses real challenges to the ability of universities to compete in a “fiercely challenging global market” for international students, with a survey after the EU referendum finding 30% of international students were less likely to study in the UK as a result of the vote.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said higher education was the third largest sector in Scotland – besides financial services and energy – when measured by the contribution made to the economy.
He said: “This performance is 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.
“That exchange of ideas, working alongside one another, is the very essence of a successful higher education sector. We would expect the UK government to take action to ensure our world-class institutions remain world-class.”
Evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee submitted by Research Councils UK, which represents the UK’s seven research councils, warns there are “real” risks posed by Brexit to the country’s world-class research sector.
The submission warned that there was a "a significant risk that, in a climate of uncertainty, the talented students, researchers and technical specialists required for UK research to continue to be a world leader will leave or not come to the UK".
It also raises concerns that reduction in access to EU funding programmes will pose a significant risk to the “excellence of UK research”.
Disciplines in UK universities which receive the highest proportion of their total research income from the EU are particularly at risk – with archaeology, which received 34.8 per cent from EU Government bodies over three years, top of the list.
The list also includes IT and systems sciences at 30.9 per cent, classics at 30.1 per cent, law at 24.7 per cent and philosophy at 24.2 per cent.
Research Councils UK declined to comment further on the submission. Shirley-Anne Sommerville, Scotland's minister for further education, higher education and science, said: “The verdict from Scotland’s universities and from the UK’s research bodies could not be clearer – leaving the EU would have potentially devastating effects for Scotland’s higher education sector, with all that implies for our wider economic performance.
“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. And it is essential that the UK Government starts having meaningful dialogue with devolved administrations that enables our universities to continue to thrive with continued access to European funding and research collaborations in the EU and further afield.”
She added: “We are proud that Scotland is a destination of choice for students and staff from overseas and are totally committed to ensuring this remains the case as we explore every avenue to protect our relationship with the EU.”
A UK Government spokesman said: "The UK has a long established system that supports, and therefore attracts, the brightest minds, at all stages of their careers. We fund excellent research wherever it is found, and ensure there is the freedom to tackle important scientific questions.
"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."