By Professor Anton Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow
Scotland’s universities are a beacon of success – four are in the global top 200. We punch well above our weight and deliver not just superb education for our students but also genuinely world changing research in health, science, technology and the environment. Academics from all over the world are attracted to Scotland – and one of the core reasons for this is the connectivity that our universities have with partner institutions across Europe. Research knows no boundaries; science no borders. Brexit threatens this, and that point cannot be emphasised enough.
My own university was founded long before the European Union. We are, and always have been, outward in outlook, steeped in the European tradition and yet distinctively Scottish. That will not end at midnight on 29 March 2019, but so much of what we do and what we achieve collectively with others could be jeopardised depending on how Brexit is delivered.
We must continue to attract talented students from across Europe to enrich our campuses and our culture; we must be able to convince the best academics to make Scotland their home and to contribute their skills to tackling some of the great issues facing our society; and to be able to work in seamless partnership with networks across Europe, pooling our knowledge base to achieve outcomes we could never hope to achieve on our own.
On the last of these points seamless participation through association with the EU’s research and innovation area and the new Horizon Europe programme is essential. EEA membership would allow that automatically, for instance. The advances made through European collaborations and the global networks that connect to them are never celebrated enough. They ought to be because they have truly changed the way that we live and the lives that we have for the better. If we are to continue to be able to make breakthroughs like the work undertaken at the University of Glasgow on gravitational waves or on the Zika virus, or to be valued as a core part of internationally leading research into areas including Precision Medicine and Quantum Technology, then the voice and the perspective of universities needs to be recognised in the final negotiations that are imminently upon us.
This is emphatically not about money, important though access to EU funding opportunities is. This is about ensuring that we continue to have access to pan-European research networks where we can work together with the best minds and the best institutions in delivering scientific breakthroughs and medical advances for the benefit of all.
But above all it’s about continuing to tap the best talent. To do this we must reach a Brexit deal quickly which reassures all our highly valued EU colleagues already here about their rights, and which continues to allow us to recruit the very best in a frictionless way. And we need clarity about EU students continued access to our great Universities. This is again where, if Brexit is not halted altogether, EEA membership would serve us best.
Scotland’s universities are valuable in their own right, but they also contribute hugely to the economy, creating jobs and delivering more than £8 back for every £1 invested by the public purse. The unique cluster of skills that centre around our Universities link academia to industry, the NHS and inform social policy.
With tragic irony one of the mantras during the Brexit Referendum debate was not to listen to experts. Experts now have to engage more than ever before. Because Brexit has the potential to do untold damage to Higher Education and to the enormous and sustained public benefits that the past decades of partnership with our European colleagues have truly delivered.