Scottish universities and colleges unite to fight Brexit

Published: 22 November 2018

University of Glasgow hosts Brexit Summit organised by Scottish Government

The University last week (Thursday, November 22) hosted a Scottish Government Brexit Summit for Further and Higher Education.

The meeting coincided with the announcement of a joint statement signed by colleges, universities, trades unions and the Scottish Government agreeing a united approach to protect Scottish tertiary education from the worst effects of Brexit.

The statement sets out how all parties will press the UK Government to reintroduce a Post-Study Work Visa in Scotland, continue research collaboration and safeguard education relationships within Europe.

The summit was chaired by Professor Sheila Rowan, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Scottish Government and Director of the Institute of Gravitational Research at the University of Glasgow.Brexit Summit Principal 650

The University’s Principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, opened the summit.

“I’ve previously referred to our impending exit from the EU as ‘the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory’.

“Nothing has happened in the last few weeks to change that view. Indeed, with the confusion and uncertainty we are seeing every day in Whitehall, if anything my view has only hardened,” he said.

Sir Anton continued: “Most sectors will be hit hard by Brexit – but given the particular circumstances of the further and higher education sectors, the fear is that we will be one of the hardest hit.”

In terms of Horizon 2020 data, the UK’s share of funding had declined from 17.5% in May 2016 to 13% in May 2018. Germany had recently overtaken the UK in terms of share of funding and France’s share was getting closer, he said.

“And more than funding, it’s about attracting talent to Scotland. Many of these grants have actually brought European researchers here. Access to networks across Europe are vital – as is ensuring Scotland and the UK can continue to attract talented researchers from across Europe.

“Unfortunately, we are already seeing the fruits of the Brexiteers’ labours – and more and more young research students are turning away from the U.K.,” he added.

Over 950 of the University of Glasgow’s staff are non-UK EU nationals – representing 13.2% of the total workforce and 21% of the University’s academic research staff. There are also over 3,000 EU students at Glasgow.

He told the summit that the “desirable route” was to “halt Brexit in its tracks and seek to remain”.

“This path would avoid the serious damage to the Higher Education sector, the Further Education sector, our economy, our society and our place in the world which would come with leaving the EU.

“Of course it will take leadership from politicians – many of whom have thus far seemed reluctant to stand up to the power, whether real or imagined, of the Hard Brexiteers.

“But these are not people any serious government should be held to ransom by – a fact that is starting to dawn on people across Westminster.

“I think the case for acting in the national interest and at least a Single Market option or indeed remaining in the EU itself is there to be made to our politicians and there to be won.

“Our further and higher education institutions will be crucial to that. This is too important for us to stand on the sidelines,” he said.

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further and Higher Education, said: “Brexit is the single biggest risk to our colleges and universities, threatening the ability to attract and retain EU staff and students and continue vital research.

“I welcome this joint statement which, amid the current chaos, sends a clear, powerful message that colleges and universities will use their collective influence to press for much needed answers from the UK Government.

“We will also work to retain our historic links with our European partners and ensure they are in no doubt that Scotland continues to welcome EU citizens to study or work here.”Brexit Summit group 650

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said: “As Brexit reaches the final stages it is really important we continue to emphasise how much our staff and students matter to us and repeat the message that we’ll keep working to secure the earliest guarantee of their rights.”

The summit also heard from Professor Nikolaj Gadegaard, who works in Biomedical Engineering. After the Referendum vote he didn’t know whether he would be deported back to Denmark, despite having lived here for 16 years and having a British wife and two children. Since the vote to leave the EU, he felt less welcome as an EU national than he felt previously. There was uncertainty among staff and students and fears about future ability to attract talent, he said.

Elliot Napier, the SRC’s Court Assessor and Age Equality Officer, said: “Lots of us feel we have had our European-ness and our future life-plans taken away.”

Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh, called for “a broader grand alliance across the whole of the UK”.

He said: “Scotland won’t stop this alone – Scotland does not have the heft to influence Britain. So if this horror is to happen, the Scottish Government has to come out at a certain point in this process and say how it is going to play a role in the mitigation of this event.”

The joint statement commits Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, the UCU, Unison, the EIS, NUS Scotland, The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government to:

  • Safeguard and strengthen Scotland's relationship with the rest of Europe
  • Support Scotland as a destination of choice for international staff and students
  • Call for clarity from the UK Government on future participation in the Erasmus+ programme
  • Call on the UK Government to introduce a post study work route in Scotland to enable universities and colleges to continue to attract and retain talent
  • Support Scottish universities in building on relationships and collaborate with European partners
  • Call on the UK Government to make clear how, in the event of ‘no deal’, research will be supported and how the UK will fully participate in Horizon Europe
  • Support the sustainability and competitiveness of Scotland's tertiary system
  • Use their influence in Europe and beyond to ensure it is widely understood that Scotland remain open and welcoming to EU staff and students
  • Do their utmost to continue to collaborate with our European partners



First published: 22 November 2018