Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea told MPs on the Scottish affairs committee that while the outcome of leaving the European Union is as yet unknown, “however you parameterise it, things get worse”.
The University of Edinburgh is ranked in the top 20 higher education institutions across the world, with the principal and vice-chancellor stressing the importance of overseas staff and students to the sector.
He urged Prime Minister Theresa May to consider striking a “special deal”, warning that any future restrictions on the free movement of Europeans would have a damaging impact on the sector.
Sir Timothy said Home Office visa restrictions had damaged universities “a bit”, but added: “If Brexit isn’t appropriately negotiated they could be damaged in a very serious way.
“Yesterday the Prime Minister said helpfully that perhaps a special relationship might be necessary for workers in the City, for the car industry. But God help me if the City and the car industry deserve a special deal, then the universities... they are more dependent on the mobility of highly skilled labour than any other sector.”