STARK warnings over the future of Scottish universities following cash cuts have been dismissed by John Swinney.

In a snub to university principals the Education Secretary said the sector was good at raising extra money itself.

Mr Swinney went on to warn that the biggest strategic threat to universities would be an end to freedom of movement of staff following a no-deal Brexit.

Following the draft Scottish budget in December university leaders issued a warning over the future viability of the sector.

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Professor Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland, said institutions would find it difficult to deal with real terms decline of 1.79 per cent adding: “This returns universities to a series of real terms cuts that the Government stopped last year.

HeraldScotland:

“We understand the Scottish Government is managing a challenging set of public finances, but we’d hoped last year’s decision was the start of a slow climb back to sustainable funding. That’s clearly not the case.”

Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s education committee to discuss the education budget Mr Swinney was questioned on the concerns.

He responded: “I don’t have those concerns. Government investment represents a minority of university income so obviously universities are very successful in attracting other income.

“The contribution we have made by sustaining the funding is a strong foundation for the sector.

“In terms of the challenges of Brexit I am deeply concerned by where we are going on freedom of movement. It is the biggest strategic threat our universities face.”

Following his appearance, Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said six years of decline in real terms funding "is not a sustainable situation for the sector".

He said: "Audit Scotland reached this conclusion back in 2016 and the sector has had to absorb further cuts since then. The Deputy First Minister is correct to say universities are able to lever in funding from other sources, but a sustainable level of core government funding is essential since it pays for the staff and facilities that enable universities to compete for these resources.

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"With universities only funded at around 90 per cent of the cost of teaching Scottish students, and research typically carried out at a loss, there isn’t a substitute for sustainable public funding.

"As we look beyond the uncertainties of Brexit, we need excellent, widely accessible and sustainably-funded universities to support our nation’s success."