Scottish independence: Academics say 'Yes' vote could harm scientific research

Scientist with beaker The academics claim Scotland does well under the existing system of research funding

Medical and scientific research across the UK would suffer if Scotland votes for independence, according to the heads of three academic institutions.

The claim was made by the presidents of the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke said scientific collaboration would be damaged by a "Yes" vote.

The Scottish government said links would continue under independence, with plans for a common research area.

Start Quote

We have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students”

End Quote Professor Bryan MacGregor Academics for Yes spokesman

In a joint letter to The Times newspaper, the three academics also claimed that maintaining existing levels of research in Scotland would cost Scottish taxpayers more should the country leave the UK.

They wrote: "Scotland has long done particularly well through its access to UK research funding.

"If it turns out that an independent Scotland has to form its own science and research budget, maintaining these levels of research spending would cost the Scottish taxpayer significantly more."

They went on to state that the strong links and collaborations which exist across the UK "would be put at risk", with any new system aiming to restore these links "likely to be expensive and bureaucratic".

The presidents wrote: "We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also the rest of the UK would suffer.

"However, research in Scotland would be more vulnerable and there could be significant reductions in range, capacity and critical mass."

International collaborations

However Academics for Yes, a pro-independence group which comprises 60 academics from Scottish universities, said a "Yes" vote would protect the country's universities and allow research priorities to be determined.

Its spokesman, Professor Bryan MacGregor from the University of Aberdeen, said: "On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of cuts in research and science funding, high student fees with unsustainable loan funding, an immigration policy that is preventing and deterring international student recruitment and the possibility of an exit from the EU and its research funding.

"And, on the other, we have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students.

"People may be unaware of the existing scope of international collaboration in the funding of research, not least between the UK and Ireland which have a number of agreements through the research councils, as does the UK and several other countries. And other countries do likewise.

"The European Research Council allocates billions of Euros according to quality of the research, and there are international collaborations such as CERN. Scottish independence would not make any difference to such activities."

'Grave concerns'

Earlier this year a group of 14 clinical academics and scientists put their names to an open letter raising "grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical research".

But the Scottish government, which currently provides about a third of research funds, has argued there is no reason why the current UK-wide structure for funding could not continue post-independence.

In a recent paper on the future of higher education research it argued that independence would give Scottish universities more opportunities for global collaboration and promotion.

Responding to The Times letter, a Scottish government spokesman said: "The Scottish government has already shown our commitment to research through increased investment since 2007 and we will continue to support research in an independent Scotland providing levels of public investment in university research which enable our universities to remain internationally competitive.

"With independence it will continue to be in the interest of both Scotland and the UK to collaborate as part of a single research area.

"Scotland currently contributes substantially to UK Research Councils' funding through its share of UK tax receipts and, with independence, we will negotiate with the UK government a fair funding formula for Scotland's contribution.

"We will also ensure there is no adverse funding impact from Scotland's transition to independence and, indeed, believe that independence will bring opportunities for increased research funding through wider collaborations with partners in Europe and beyond, facilitated by our greater presence and profile on the world stage."

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