Scottish universities are facing a ‘brain drain’ of top research talent in the wake of Brexit, ministers have warned.

Richard Lochhead, the Higher Education Minister, said institutions would no longer be able to attract the best researchers unless international collaborations were safeguarded.

His comments came in a debate at the Scottish Parliament on the “substantial threat” posed by Brexit to the country’s position as a leading nation in international science and research.

He said: “Continuing international collaboration is critical to maintaining and strengthening Scotland’s excellence in research as well as meeting our economic policy goals and improving public services.

“Brexit and the related hostile immigration policies of the UK Government should not be allowed to stymie Scotland’s scientific and economic progress.

“The UK Government does not have a credible plan to ensure that our valuable science and research can be maintained and enhanced following Brexit.”

A Scottish Government report on science and research published this week highlighted the importance of collaboration in international research and innovation programmes.

It said: “As the evidence quoted above shows, the impact of reduced participation in such programmes goes well beyond the funding aspects alone.

“A reduction in European research collaborations and researcher mobility between Scotland and the rest of Europe is likely to lead to a weakening of our research productivity and excellence.

“Participation in European research programmes gives Scottish universities and other organisations access not only to EU funding, but also to collaborative networks, expertise, facilities and data that add immense value to their work.”

The report said around a quarter of all full-time research staff at Scottish universities were EU citizens while many more EU researchers work within the Scottish Government, at research institutes, public bodies and in the private sector.

It concluded: “The continuing uncertainty over the UK Government’s future immigration policy has been damaging, presenting a significant risk to Scotland’s international collaborations and research excellence.”