WE DISAGREE fundamentally with the views expressed by Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke (Letters, 5 July) about the potential impact of independence on university research.
Rather than cause any damage, we are certain that an independent Scotland will be better placed economically to support its universities. In a comprehensive analysis, the Financial Times concluded that an independent Scotland would be one of the world’s top 20 countries by GDP per head. Others have drawn similar conclusions.
In contrast, a No vote would mean a substantial reduction in funds available for universities in Scotland because of the further planned cuts of £25 billion in UK public sector funding and reductions to the Scottish budget through the reform or abolition of the Barnett formula.
UK research and science budgets are already being cut. The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has noted that “the cumulative erosion of the ring-fenced science budget will be over £1.1bn from the begining of SR10 period up to 15/16”.
And CaSE director Dr Sarah Main, has commented that: “The last four years of a flat cash science budget is biting scientists and engineers and squeezing universities. It is also in danger of putting off R&D companies looking to invest in the UK for whom government investment in research is a potent attractor.”
It is also important to look at the wider support for universities. From 2011-12 to 2012-13, public funding of universities decreased by 17.7 per cent in England, 32 per cent in Wales and 4.9 per cent in Northern Ireland. In contrast, it increased by 8.3 per cent in Scotland.
Scotland has a policy of no student fees, whereas elsewhere in the UK there is creeping privatisation of the university sector through fees of up to £9,000 a year for all UK and European Union students, funded by loans.
Independence will offer Scotland an opportunity to develop its own quality brand and to attract international students.
PROF BRYAN MACGREGOR, Aberdeen University, PROF MIKE DANSON, Heriot Watt University, DR STEPHEN WATSON, Glasgow University
Members of Academics for Yes
Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke appear to have arrived at the debate about the impact of independence on research a little late in the day as this topic was thoroughly aired at least two months ago.
At the time, some academics expressed similar concerns and others indicated that independence would have a neutral or beneficial effect on research programmes. Some others pointed out that if Scotland was taken out of Europe (against its will), access to an even larger pool of funding would be seriously jeopardised. Still more pointed out that Scotland had been a rich source of income for UK funders, both statutory and charitable foundations.
Speaking as a layman, I expressed the view that presumably Scotland “punches above its weight” because of the excellence of its research institutions and infrastructure and the very high quality of its staff. It’s also safe to assume that these institutions are extremely adept at constructing and presenting valuable research projects in applications to funders.
As none of this would change in an independent Scotland, the implication is that funders, many of whom have a global remit, would prefer to fund less excellent projects on the basis that they were presenting themselves from the rUK?
I wonder if the eminent gentlemen named above would be prepared to comment?