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I start by welcoming the minister to his role—it is good to see him back in Government. This is an interesting debate and I am glad that he has chosen such an important subject.
Scotland has an excellent track record that we should all be proud of, notwithstanding the environment in which we find ourselves. We have five universities in Scotland that rank in the global top 200, which is more per capita than any other country in the world. That is something that everyone should be proud of.
This is the country that first cloned a mammal and where the MRI scanner was invented. Our universities support more than 180,000 jobs. In that respect, I support the part of Mr Lochhead’s motion that says that we should appreciate the significance of the international collaboration that our universities and research institutions foster and the effect that they have on life in Scotland. However, it is important to point out that that scientific excellence will continue to operate beyond the realms of a post-Brexit UK.
I say that not to detract from the important point that the Scottish Government wants to make today about listening to voices from the science community, which I think is a fair one. However, to date, Scottish universities have shown little sign of slowing down since the EU referendum when it comes to their continued participation and involvement on the international stage.
Just this week, a group of Scottish universities announced the creation of a blue carbon forum to analyse the way in which Scotland’s marine life could help to mitigate global climate change.
Recently, Scottish universities came together to form the industrial centre for artificial intelligence research in digital diagnostics, which is currently working to improve patient care throughout the national health service and is generating jobs in the technology and healthcare sectors.
Another example comes from my region of West Scotland, where the University of the West of Scotland hosted local first responders for joint training exercises and announced a partnership with Kibble Education and Care Centre to support vulnerable youth. It is also working in a number of areas to help people to get into the STEM sector locally. Some of that work is associated with the university’s new Lanarkshire campus, which will create a vital boost to jobs in the local economy.
The further and higher education sectors are going full steam ahead, as best they can, to promote Scotland as a good place in which to study.