Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I am pleased that the member brought that up. On those grounds, I challenge her to ensure that her MP colleagues in Westminster do not vote down a deal, which would result in a no-deal outcome. I encourage her to take that to her colleagues, because a hard Brexit is a real possibility if they vote down a deal that the Prime Minister brings back from Europe. I ask her to reflect on that. It is an important point and I am glad that she made it.

Part of what has made Scotland a world leader in academia is the resilience of some of these institutions and our commitment to them. However, we cannot have this debate and ignore the fact that, right now, we are seeing fewer and fewer clearing spaces available to Scottish students. This year, by late August, there were 900 courses available for students from the rest of the UK and fewer than 150 available for Scottish students, due to Government quotas. We are regularly warned that universities are in need of funding in order to remain financially sustainable and continue the research, and we have heard that again today; but nearly half of all Scottish universities are already running a deficit. There is no mention of that in the minister’s motion, and he did not mention it in his speech. The Government talks about the geographic mobility of students, but there is no conversation around the social mobility of students, especially those from Scotland. Let us have a debate about mobility, but let us not ignore the fact that domestic Government has a key role to play in ensuring that our higher education institutions are well placed and well funded to succeed, regardless of the constitutional or political environments in which they operate.

In the limited time that I have, I would also like to say that Scotland already participates in a number of programmes. Horizon 2020 and Erasmus are the most commonly cited, but there are many other multi-million pound partnerships between Scottish institutions and their European counterparts. Many of them ensure that Scotland is a leader in sectors and can fulfil its desire to be at the forefront of research and innovation. That desire will always remain.

Scottish universities play a pivotal role in our economy and our culture. Our amendment does not hide from the fact that we on these benches believe that future UK visa structures should continue to allow institutions to recruit the brightest and the best staff and students from wherever they may be. We need people, but those people also need courses, and they need well-funded universities to work and study in.

Let us have a sensible debate about the future of Scotland’s higher education, but let us not single out one aspect and ignore others. The Scottish Government has a role to play in this devolved matter, and the lack of awareness of that in its motion today is quite telling—and entirely predictable.