KEY institutions from across Scottish higher education have joined forces in an unprecedented move to fight the damaging impact of Brexit on the nation’s world leading universities.

The historic campaign to reverse the “major risks” posed by leaving the European Union (EU) includes the Scottish Government, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Universities Scotland, lecturers’ body UCU Scotland and student body NUS Scotland.

A joint statement from the group, which also includes Colleges Scotland, Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland, demands guarantees from Westminster over the future of EU staff and students at Scottish universities to protect the £4 billion contribution the sector makes to the economy.

It calls for action to protect Scotland’s place at the heart of cutting edge research collaborations across the EU worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

The campaign also seeks to pressurise the UK Government into introducing post study visas in Scotland to make attending university here as attractive as possible.

The joint statement said: “The UK’s expected departure from the EU raises major issues and risks for our colleges and universities as well as for their staff and students.

“We will work together to do everything we can to safeguard and continue to strengthen Scotland’s relationship with the rest of Europe.

“We want EU nationals living, working and studying in Scotland to feel settled and secure."

The statement comes ahead of a summit on the impact of Brexit on higher education at Glasgow University today attended by key officials from the bodies involved as well as renowned historian Sir Tom Devine.

Richard Lochhead, the Higher Education Minister, said he hoped to take a delegation to London and Brussels in the coming weeks to state Scotland's case direct to UK ministers and key European officials.

He said: "We have to get across to the UK Government the massive damaging impact Brexit will have and that is why we are standing together with our students and staff as well as sector leaders from the science community.

"Scotland will suffer disproportionately because we have more EU students and more EU staff and a greater share of EU research funding compared to the rest of the UK.

"There is no doubt institutions are shocked and appalled that we are approaching Brexit D Day and are no further forward in what we need. I have never known the sector to be so unified."

The summit will be addressed by Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal of Glasgow University, who said it was not too late either to stop Brexit altogether or to pursue a "softer" deal that allowed free movement of people.

He said: "I've previously referred to our impending exit from the EU as the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory. Nothing has happened in the last few weeks to change that view."