THE Scottish Government's Higher Education and Research in an Independent Scotland report, which was published this week, argues that independence will strengthen the research base, maintain existing collaborations, create new ones and develop a funding policy better suited to Scotland's needs ("Plan to attract more overseas students", The Herald, May 1).

We challenge all these assertions. Independence, with the irreversible change that will follow, puts the future of Scottish universities and their major contributions to Scotland at serious risk.

Questions about the mechanisms for funding research are still unanswered. Plans are still based on the naive assumption that little will change with independence, that the present UK system can continue with access to major UK research infrastructure in the UK and UK Research Councils. But a single research system between the two countries has already been rejected by the UK government.

There are no precedents for such a system. It would be difficult for Research Councils to straddle two countries with differing regulations, laws, and priorities. The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), for example, is developing contingency plans on the assumption that Scottish research organisations would become ineligible for UK research council funding.

As a small country negotiating with a vastly larger partner, Scotland will have little power to determine outcomes and the idea that an independent Scotland can negotiate even better terms than received at present is, quite frankly, incredible. The probable major loss of income from UK charities, already indicated by statements from the Wellcome Trust, is ignored. Major centres of medical research in Scotland as well as world-class institutes such as Roslin and the extensive collabor­ations with universities and the private sector are put at risk by these proposals.

There is no real articulation of an alternative plan or how much more difficult it would be to substitute UK partners and collaborations by more cumbersome and slow arrangements within the EU.

Above all, the claims that research would be better funded do not stand up to scrutiny. This is one of a myriad of higher expenditure and lower taxation claims which the SNP has made. This is in the face of the opinions of a majority of economic experts that the economic prospects for Scotland would be poorer than within the Union and that the costs and uncertainties of irreversible separation are high.

Overall, the irony of the Scottish Government paper is that it lauds the virtues of the present UK system. If it is so good, isn't continuing membership of the Union a better option?

Susan Shaw, Arthur Allison, Stewart Bramley, David Caldwell, John Coggins, Jim Gallacher, Patrick Harkness, Peter Holmes, Hugh Pennington,

166 Ingram Street,