‘Brain drain’ feared in an independent Scotland

Sam Wigglesworth
News Editor

There are fears that Scotland’s top universities could lose researchers if there is a yes vote for independence, resulting in a “brain drain.”

Despite repeated promises from the Scottish government that independence would not result in a cut to research funding, some academics have highlighted concerns that if Scotland is to become independent, they would relocate elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as a result of collaboration with other UK researchers and different charities and trusts. Some, such as Professor David Weller of the University of Edinburgh are arguing that if “Scotland was a separate country [there’s no way] that kind of arrangement could be sustained.”

However, the Scottish Government has stated that despite the fact Scottish universities at the moment receive a disproportionately large share of funding from UK research councils, funding will not drop. These plans are outlined in their document, ‘Scotland’s Future: Higher Education Research’ in an Independent Scotland’ which states that the Scottish government will “guarantee no adverse funding impact from Scotland’s transition to independence.” The document also highlights that independence will still allow for the UK as an “important research partner.”

This position is supported by Yes Academics who stated in July 2014 that an independent Scotland would be “better places to economically support its universities.”

However, the group Academics Together disagree with this. Academics Together argue that the brightest future for Scotland is as part of the UK and released a letter in September 2014, signed by 65 leading academics. The letter highlighted the ‘personal concerns’ for the future of clinical and biomedical research in an independent Scotland, arguing that in order to sustain the level of research excellence enjoyed by Scotland, it is necessary to remain part of the UK.

It further states that it would be”unlikely” for an independent Scotland to be able to afford to deliver equivalent funding either through a “future Scottish Research Council” or through “a subscription arrangement with the UK Research Councils.”  They state that “remaining within the UK offers overwhelming advantages for biomedical research and development, including for commercialisation and wealth generation from the vital biomedical sector.” Over twenty Glasgow University academics signed the letter.

When asked by the Glasgow Guardian if the University was concerned that top researchers might abandon Scottish universities if the country becomes independent, a spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “The constitutional position of Scotland is a decision that will be made by the people of Scotland in September 2014. The University of Glasgow will maintain a strictly neutral position, though we do encourage our academics and students to engage in the debate. Whatever the result, we will continue to position the University of Glasgow as one of the world’s great research intensive institutions where the student experience is second to none.”