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Reality gap on higher education and research must be closed

16 March 2014

The Scottish Affairs Committee has published their report on the Referendum on Separation for Scotland: the impact on higher education, research and tuition fees

In the report, the Committee says the Scottish Government must acknowledge and address the damaging effects on higher education and research that Separation would bring, and stop trying to sell the Scottish people a vision that would not be legally or financially possible.


The Committee has examined the aspects of the Scottish Government’s stated policy on higher education and research, and concludes:

Research councils

Scottish universities currently receive over 50% more in research grants from the UK Research Councils than they would if allocation of funding was based on population share. The UK Minister for Universities and Science told the Committee  that in the event of separation, “the rest of the UK would carry on with its Research Councils, Scotland would not be part of that structure.” The Scottish Government must now make clear how it would deal with this loss of financial support and the stated decision of the UK to redraw the boundaries of the Research Councils to conform with a new constitutional settlement.

Tuition fees

Evidence to the Committee shows that the Scottish Government’s proposals to discriminate against students from the rest of the UK would not be legally sustainable in the event of separation and eventual accession to the EU. Based on current student numbers, this puts a £150 million black hole in Scotland’s higher education budget with an expectation that this figure would rise.

Academic co-operation

The Scottish Government has not made it clear why it expects the UK’s universities and academics to freely co-operate with a separate Scotland which is intent on discriminating against UK students nor how it would overcome the expected loss of unrestricted access to the UK’s research base that would inevitably follow separation.

Global networking

Scotland’s universities and researchers would lose access to the United Kingdom’s Science and Innovation Network (SIN) based in British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates around the world. This network is key to enabling the Scottish research community access to sources of international funding and expertise. It is unclear how a separate Scotland could replicate such a far-reaching and high quality structure.


The Committee recognises the attraction of achieving a degree of flexibility on immigration which Separation may offer and believe the United Kingdom Government should clarify whether any such gains could be made available within the existing immigration system.

Chair's comments

Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said:

“The Scottish Government’s fantasies and assertions have now run into the brick wall of reality. Their plan to charge students from the rest of the UK higher tuition fees will not be legally permissible. Research councils in Scotland, under Separation, will not retain the levels of funding they currently enjoy. The Department for Education, like the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence, has begun to draw its lines in the sand on a Separate Scotland: at least they are being clear about what will and will not be possible. We now call on the Scottish Government to set out its realistic plan B, not just a wish list. 

Higher education and research is one of the policy areas where the divergence between the fantasies and assertions of the Scottish Government and the nature of reality is at its starkest. The Scottish Government has a clear responsibility to tell the Scottish people how it would manage the damaging effects of changes in higher education and research that separation would bring.”

Further information