Not many Scottish institutions in recent years can claim to have been evaluated and measured against international competition. Fewer still have achieved results from that process which confirms global status in their fields of expertise.

This, however, is the case with our leading universities. The results suggest the entire nation should take enormous pride in their remarkable achievements. These places of higher learning are to be cherished.

It is reckoned that there are currently over 24,000 universities worldwide. This year, four Scottish universities were placed by independent assessments in the global top 200 on the basis of excellence in research, teaching, quality of graduates and proportions of international students.

By one comparison, Ireland, with a broadly similar population to Scotland’s, had a single university listed among that super elite.‎

For a small nation with little of the formidable resources of the great American private universities, this suggests an extraordinary success story.

The reasons for it are many and complex, but one factor is ‎beyond doubt. The internationalism of our leading institutions, their systematic recruitment of staff and students from outside Scotland and their disdain for parochialism, introspection and insularity.

This has long been the way, especially in relation to Europe. Our first three universities were founded and developed on European models in medieval times. The ties between continental centres of learning and Scotland in that period were then hugely strengthened by the migration of Scots scholars across the continent. For instance, between its foundation and the Reformation, the University of Paris, the Harvard of its day, had no less than eighteen Scottish rectors.

Historians are now also agreed that a key reason for the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, this country’s greatest intellectual and cultural gift to the world, was the intricate scholarly networks built up over centuries between European and Scottish thinkers. These connections are even deeper and wider today.

Now this impressive historic edifice of intellectual interchange which has long been of such great value to Scotland is threatened by the absurdity of Brexit, the objectives of which are in complete contradiction to the raison d’etre of our great centres of learning.

As yet, no one knows what is before us as negotiations rumble on though the uncertainties are already affecting the morale of European researchers and students in UK universities. There can be little doubt, however, that if the worst case scenarios come to pass, the international standing of Scottish universities will be seriously weakened.

The citizens of Scotland should be in no doubt what is at stake here. Today, one of the few assets we possess as a nation since deindustrialisation is human capital; the abilities and talent of our people, refined and tempered by advanced education and training.

Unlike the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, universities are now absolutely fundamental not only to our cultural and intellectual life but to our economic future.

The international prestige of these institutions also brings ‘soft power’, high profile respect and admiration to this country among key opinion formers and people of influence across the globe.

Because of the serious threat posed by Brexit to this strategic advantage, the Scottish Government has rightly convened a Brexit summit at Glasgow University. The discussions and conclusions should matter deeply to all Scots concerned for the future of their country.

Sir Tom Devine is Professor‎ Emeritus at Edinburgh University