UK ministers have been accused of failing to support Scottish universities as they battle to maintain their competitive position in the post-Brexit era.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) said the Conservative Government’s response to its report on higher education (HE) left key questions unanswered.

Called Universities and Scotland, the document argues that the Turing exchange scheme should be expanded so it funds inward bound international students and opportunities for academic staff. Turing was introduced after UK participation in the EU’s Erasmus+ programme was scrapped.

The SAC report also warns that high costs associated with the global talent visa could create further barriers to attracting international academics.

Another recommendation is that HE institutions north of the Border be given greater representation within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), including a seat on the agency’s board. The committee said this would have been a “quick win” to boost the voice of Scottish academia.

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The UK Government has insisted it is supporting universities "in a number of ways". It added that Turing was offering "tremendous global opportunities" to Scottish students.   

However, SAC members warned today that their calls for improvement had been rejected or not addressed. The committee has now written a follow-up letter seeking clarity on points around student and academic staff exchange through Turing, Scottish representation within UKRI, and UK participation in the Horizon Europe funding programme.

Pete Wishart, SAC chair, said: “If Scottish universities are to continue punching above their weight, they need appropriate support from Government.

“The UK Government’s response to our report contains many words but says very little. There is no good reason why Scottish representation is lacking within decision-making at UKRI, and making the UK a more competitive place for international students and academics to come is surely only a positive move. Yet the Government does not seem to agree.

“It is baffling that this disappointing response to our committee’s report took ten months. This is a priority area for this committee, and I hope the Government reflects on the points we have made and responds to our follow-up letter more swiftly.”

The Herald: Pete Wishart, chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, has voiced concern about arrangements for universities after Brexit.Pete Wishart, chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, has voiced concern about arrangements for universities after Brexit.

Mr Wishart's concern was echoed by Mary Senior, the University and College Union's Scotland official, who said: “It is disappointing that the UK Government has taken so long to respond to the report, and after nearly a year deliberating is not proposing to do more.

“The failure to offer a reciprocal exchange scheme enabling students and staff to live, study or work overseas is missed opportunity.  

"Instead we’re left urging the Scottish Government to bring forward its international exchange scheme as soon as possible."

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Ms Senior added: “The refusal to transform the UK’s punitive and regressive immigration system does nothing to support Scotland’s universities and our wider economy and society. 

"We all benefit from people coming to live, work, and study in Scotland, but an immigration system based on the hostile environment, along with hurdles and fees to live, work and study in the UK, does nothing to help the university sector.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s universities are world-leading institutions and we are very pleased the UK is able to support them in a number of ways, from facilitating visas for international students to substantial research funding.

“The UK Government’s Turing scheme is offering tremendous global opportunities for Scottish students.

“Appointments to the UKRI board are made via open competition on grounds of experience and skills. Board members work collectively for the benefit of the whole of the UK. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and other partners as we continue to support Scotland’s higher education sector.”

The UK Goverment also stressed the current board of UKRI has members from Scotland and Wales, including from the University of St Andrews.