Independence will hit research funding, Scottish universities warned
SCOTLAND’S universities could lose millions of pounds of research funding if the country becomes independent, a leading constitutional expert has warned.
Alan Trench, a senior research fellow at University College London, said institutions north of the Border would no longer be able to access the coffers of Research Councils UK from which they receive “hugely disproportionate” levels of funding.
Some of the country’s larger universities, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, currently receive up to 40 per cent of their funding from the body, which is made up of seven separate research councils, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Medical Research Council.
Trench said some of the bigger institutions would be hit hard as independence would mean an end to the current funding set-up.
“It’s very important to emphasise how well they do – they get a hugely disproportionate amount of funding,” he said. “They get something in order of 11 per cent of Research Council funding. Edinburgh and Glasgow are the main beneficiaries as they are very, very strong in medical research and bioscience.
“Scotland does very well. I can’t see how if Scotland was to become independent and was outside the UK, it would be able to draw on that level of funding from UK sources.”
Research Councils UK is funded by the taxpayer through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with Scottish institutions consistently winning about 12 per cent or more of its total funding, despite the country having about 8.5 per cent of the UK’s population.
In 2010-11, Scottish institutions received £232 million from the councils, or 15 per cent of its overall £1.56bn funding pot available for research grants to all UK universities.
Recent projects which have received funding include the UK National Supercomputing Service being worked on by scientists at Edinburgh University, which received £13.9m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
A spokeswoman for Research Councils UK said: “It’s really difficult to say [what will happen] at this stage. We are a national funding body, so we fund the whole of the UK, not just England. It would depend on independence and if the current funding arrangements continued or if everything would stop.
“We will be guided by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the discussions they have with the Scottish Government. It’s something we are in very early discussions about internally, looking at different scenarios.”
The Scottish Government said it had commissioned Professor Ian Diamond, principal of Aberdeen University and a former chair of Research Councils UK’s executive group, to look into the issue.
A spokesman said: “Scotland is renowned around the globe as being a centre for research, and our universities have played a fundamental role in establishing that reputation.
“We recognise the importance of funding from the UK Research Councils which is why we have commissioned Professor Ian Diamond to consider the options available.
“We are committed to doing all we can to maintain and support further improvement in our institutions’ excellence in international research.”
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