Universities vow to protect EU research prowess

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Universities Scotland and the Scottish Government have launched a joint campaign to protect the European research credentials of Scotland’s universities following the narrow vote by the UK to leave the European Union.

Almost a quarter of researchers in Scottish universities are from other EU countries.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, stressed that with five universities in the top 200 in the world, Scotland would remain an active partner in international research and continue to benefit from EU and international funding based on the research excellence that exists in its universities.

“I do hope that despite Brexit, this reassurance from the government and Universities Scotland goes some way to encourage researchers based in Scotland and their European partners in many collaborative research programmes that Scotland’s Universities are well and truly open for business,” said Somerville.

In a joint statement, the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland said the outcome of the EU referendum made it even more important that the UK Government supports the reintroduction of a post study work visa in Scotland to enable its universities to continue to attract and retain talent from across the world.

They said Scotland’s university research is widely recognised as amongst the best in the world, with more than three-quarters of Scottish university research described as “world-leading or internationally excellent.”

“Our research excellence is underpinned by extensive European and international collaborations,” said the statement.

“Scotland is an active and valued partner in a large number of EU research collaborations and has secured significant funding from EU research programmes as a result.

“Following the EU referendum, Scotland continues to be eligible to participate in EU funding programmes.

“As the EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas himself confirmed, ‘until the end of the negotiations, UK remains a member of the EU and therefore with all the rights and obligations’…”

New UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not trigger Article 50 to start the UK’s withdrawal process from the EU in 2016, and there is genuine uncertainty as to when — or if — Article 50 will be triggered.

“Scottish universities will build on their existing relationships to continue to collaborate with a wide range of European and international partners,” the statement continued.

“The Scottish Government and Universities Scotland will work together to ensure Scotland’s universities maintain their strong relationship with partners in the EU and have opportunities to collaborate to drive up the quality and impact of their research.

“Almost a quarter of researchers in our universities in Scotland are from other EU countries.

“Both the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland have made clear that EU nationals, including researchers, continue to be welcome at our universities following the referendum.

“The contribution of EU researchers to our excellent research as well as to our economy, society and culture is valued.

“Researchers in Scotland also continue to benefit from freedom of movement across the EU, enabling them to collaborate or to carry out research in the rest of Europe.

“The UK Government has stated that ‘there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK’  and we are seeking immediate reassurance that the immigration status and rights of EU nationals currently living in Scotland will not change in future …

“The Scottish Government’s overriding objective is to protect and maintain Scotland’s existing relationship with the European Union.

“The Scottish Government and Universities Scotland share the objective of enabling Scotland to continue to play a full role in European research programmes.

“Both organisations will work together using our collective influence in Brussels and elsewhere to ensure that it is well understood that universities in Scotland remain committed to collaborating with our European partners and to attracting the best international talent.”