SCOTLAND’S higher education sector says it will fight to prevent a potential double-whammy of intellectual and economic brain drain in light of a UK-wide Brexit.
Student and academic leaders are calling for assurances over status for staff and scholars and protection for millions in funding in the wake of the EU referendum.
As many students spend the week celebrating graduations, concern is growing for the sector which sees £1 in every £10 in research funding come from the EU.
Figures from Scottish Universities show there are 19,000 non-UK students from the EU in Scotland.
Of them 13,450 are undergraduates, 3920 are on taught postgraduate programmes with 1960 doing research based postgraduates.
Together they contribute £156 million off campus to the Scottish economy.
EU citizens also make up 16 percent of all academic staff at Scotland’s leading universities – or 2485 people.
That rises to almost a quarter – or 23 percent – when it comes to research only staff .
Together their work helps attract £88.8million in research funding, 85 percent of which comes from European Commission programmes.
The rest comes mainly from European based charities and businesses, accounting for13 percent of all Scotland’s annual research funding.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at the weekend EU citizens had done “the honour” of choosing Scotland as their home and would work to protect them.
Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, said it was vital the student community understood that meant them too.
She said: “One of one of our immediate priorities must be to seek assurances for the security of EU students currently studying, or applying to study, in Scotland. We’ve already seen positive steps made with some institutions offering financial guarantees to these students.
“But now we need to see reassurance from the highest levels of their status in Scotland post-Brexit, ensuring they can continue to contribute to the country they’ve chosen to call home. Not only do they contribute to Scotland’s economy, but their cultural diversity that enriches our universities and colleges too.”
Her remarks were echoed across the HE sector where some institutions have already moved to tell current and incoming students that fees will be covered.
Professor Gerry McCormac, University of Stirling Principal, said “rich cultural diversity” was the “hallmark of higher education” and he would be fighting to ensure that was not lost.
He said: “Our EU staff and students are part of the fabric of our scholarly community and contribute greatly to, and enrich all aspects of, university life.
“The value of young people from across Europe living and learning together is immeasurable and we will do everything possible to ensure that this is not diminished in any way.”
Outgoing University of Edinburgh Principal and Vice Chancellor Sir Timothy O’Shea, who has 4500 no-UK EU citizens studying under him, said the Brexit decision would have “major implications for the HE sector … and our core activities of research and teaching”
He said: “Our priority will be to maintain our research and exchange partnerships across Europe. We value hugely the work of our European staff and students who, together with our UK and international staff and students, make this university what it is today.”
University of Glasgow says it benefits from around £13.6m a year in EU linked funding.
Its Principal, Professor Anton Muscatelli, said: “The University of Glasgow is a proudly international institution, deeply rooted in the best European traditions of learning and continues to be committed to offering our students the widest possible opportunities.”
Professor Sally Mapstone, incoming Principal at University of St Andrews, said the issue would be “a priority” for her when she arrives in September, adding: “St Andrews is outward looking, international and European, and we will go on being so.”
Some universities have already moved to settled nerves of fees and finances too.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal at University of Aberdeen, said: “I have assured them that if there is any change during their course of study, the University will cover the cost of any tuition fees to allow students to complete their degree studies at Aberdeen. “
University of Abertay has around 400 non-UK EU students. In statement. Principal Professor Nigel Seaton said: “Those of our current students paying EU-level fees that they will not be financially disadvantaged during their time at Abertay University as a result of the referendum outcome, regardless of the timing of the UK¹s exit from the EU.”
Heriot-Watt University has around 1000 non-UK undergraduates and postgraduates from the EU.
A spokesperson said: “Heriot-Watt is an inclusive, global university. Our operations span the world and transcend borders. Our relationships with Europe, European universities and other institutions remain very important to us and we will work with all governments and stakeholders to ensure those relationships are preserved under the new arrangements.
“Heriot-Watt believes this is compatible with the electorate’s decision and would be to the benefit of our University, Scotland and the wider UK.”
Professor Jeffrey Sharkey. principal at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said it cherished its diversity.
He said: “The RCS continues to be resolutely international in our outlook. We celebrate and cherish the diversity of our community of students and staff. We are greatly enriched by that diversity.”
Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, said its international outlook brought it many benefits and said: “We will continue to reach out across Europe and beyond, to collaborate on solving the pressing issues and challenges facing us today.”
University Highlands and Islands said two per cent of its 8300 non UK students were from the EU, and said the result would have “implications” for them
A spokesperson said: “We will work with our partners in the Scottish Government, UK Government, European partners and development agencies over the coming months to understand and manage these implications to help achieve the best outcome we can for our students, our staff and the Highlands and Islands.”
Professor Petra Wend, Principal of Queen Margaret University, said they had been planning for the outcome for some time, adding: “We are not unprepared”.
Glasgow School of Art said around 10 percent of its student population was from the EU and that it also had a high number of students involved with the Eramus student exchange programme, which involves travel for some 1600 Scottish students each year.
A spokesperson said: “This outcome may eventually have a number of implications for Scotland’s universities but the GSA would like to assure EU students and UK students studying in the EU that nothing changes overnight as a result of this referendum result:”
UWS Professor Craig Mahoney Principal, who has more than 1,200 EU students including exchange students at its sites, said: “Our aim will, of course, be to ensure that Scotland remains a study destination of choice for students from across the EU and further afield, and that it also attracts high calibre staff to UWS.”
Robert Gordon University Principal Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski said: “We will continue to support our students to contribute to the global economy, and also lead the way in ground-breaking industry research.”
A spokesperson from Universities Scotland, who represent all the universities, said:“The most important thing right now is to advise EU staff and students working and studying in our Scottish institutions that nothing changes overnight as a result of this referendum result.. Our priorities are to influence the negotiations for the terms of Scotland, and the UK’s, future relationship with the EU.”
The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities also issued a comment over Brexit.
It read: “We appeal to the UK Government, the European Parliament, the Commission and the European Council to ensure that any political settlement supports the free movement of ideas, open boundaries for staff and students within Europe, and uninhibited exchange of knowledge between university researchers and public and private partners wherever they may be.”