Universities and Scotland Contents

5Academic research by universities in Scotland

Scotland’s place in UK academic research

Impact, reputation and benefits of Scottish academic research

107.Scotland’s universities have an international reputation for excellent research that delivers economic and social benefits for both Scotland and the wider world.237 Richard Lochhead MSP, Scottish Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, has said that “Scotland is a science and research nation—we already punch well above our weight and enjoy a global reputation as a welcoming, pro-science nation that supports research and innovation.”238 Demonstrating the impact of Scottish research, the RSE Young Academy of Scotland told us that:

The value for money provided by Scottish research is high: with 10% of the UK researcher population producing 12% of the UK research outputs in 2015. The high productivity of Scottish research is demonstrated with an average of 8.54 publication per £million expenditure (compared to 4.81 for England in 2016).239

108.The University of Glasgow argues that Scottish universities’ global reputation for excellent research is evidenced through ‘Research Excellence Framework’ exercises and the percentage of funding won from UK research funders compared to the relative size of the research base.240 As Edinburgh University points out, Scotland gains roughly 11% of total UKRI research funding for just over 8% of the population, and Edinburgh was fifth in the Russell Group for winning EU funding.241 Professor Rebecca Lunn, University of Strathclyde, told us that Scotland is 63% ahead of the UK average in academic citations.242 Endorsing the benefits of Scottish academic research, the Scottish Funding Council told us that:

[Universities] provide Scotland with a hugely important pipeline of skilled people. They also make the research breakthroughs that will solve some of the big health, social and economic challenges of our time, including covid-19. They are also very important anchor institutions in their local communities. They employ almost 60,000 staff. They generate £11 for every £1 of public investment we make, and their international reputation attracts talent and investment. They are going to help us survive and thrive through a global pandemic and help our economic recovery.243

109.The Secretary of State for Scotland, Rt Hon Alister Jack MP, also highlighted to us the importance of Scotland’s research base:

Scotland has for many years batted above our weight in terms of the proportion of funded research activity that is supported here. We have been able to build on this through our work on the City Deals Programme, where a number of research proposals covering some of the key sectors underpinning the Scottish and UK economy have come forward. We are very mindful of the need to sustain this research base and that is why we have established a UK-wide Ministerial Taskforce on research sustainability.244 [ … ] Research in our HE institutions is a jewel in the UK’s higher education crown and it is right that we work together to protect this while tackling the challenges posed by covid-19.245

Effect of covid-19 on research

110.Alastair Sim, Universities Scotland, made the point to us that a large amount of how we respond to the pandemic is going to be through research, and the need therefore for having a “vibrant world-class research base”.246 Professor Chris Pearce, University of Glasgow, also spoke to us about the impact of the pandemic on academic research. He told us that:

[ … ] the recent crisis of covid-19 has demonstrated the value and importance of not just universities but the research they do, and has shown how they work together. They have worked collaboratively. They have worked with industry and with the health service to fight covid-19 and I am absolutely confident that they will help in the recovery from the pandemic, but that comes only through investment.247

111.Professor Chris Pearce also pointed out however that universities, such as the University of Glasgow, have had to redirect a lot of resources to fight covid-19 and, as a consequence, a lot of non-covid research has been “severely impacted”.248 He gave examples of research into chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes being delayed, and said that the long-term impact on research was going to be “significant”.249

Funding of Scottish academic research

112.Dr Stuart Fancey, Director of Research and Innovation, Scottish Funding Council, told us that both the sources of research funding, and the scale of research activity, varied “enormously” across Scottish universities.250 He told us that the Scottish Funding Council provides about a quarter of funding for the sector, with UKRI providing about another quarter, with the remainder coming from a variety of sources including charities and businesses.251 Research-intensive universities usually need to increase income from other sources, such as attracting international students, to cover their research costs. As stated earlier in the report, according to Audit Scotland, in 2016–17, universities recovered, on average, 138% of the cost of non-publicly funded teaching and 144% of the cost of non-teaching activities (such as commercial activities, residences and conferences), in order to subsidise academic research.252

113.According to Audit Scotland, the formula-based funding models for the core grants for teaching and research are “widely accepted” by the sector because they provide “transparency, understanding and are perceived by the sector to be fair.”253 However, when the Scottish Funding Council carried out a review with Scotland’s universities to determine the most pressing financial issues facing the sector, some argued that “maintaining the world-leading position of Scotland’s more research-intensive institutions will need to be explicitly recognised and supported as a strategic priority if we are to continue to make such a huge impact for our relative size as a country”.254 Professor Tim Bedford, University of Strathclyde, told us that the standard practice is that universities get 80% of full economic costs on UKRI-funded research.255 On whether this figure should increase, especially in light of covid-19, he told us that:

I think most universities would certainly say that it should increase beyond 80%, because it is so difficult to fill the other part of that. I do not think any of us would be particularly comfortable if it were to be 100%, full economic costs, because that would effectively make us consulting organisations for the Government. I think the academic freedom, the freedom of the universities to decide their research agendas and to follow those agendas, is a great strength, not only for the universities but for the UK as a whole.256

Effect of covid-19 on research funding

114.Professor Chris Pearce, University of Glasgow, told us that medical research charities are having to scale back because of a loss of donations due to the pandemic, and that this will lead to a “significant drop in charity funding for our research”.257 He went on to say that the “estimates of the shortfall over the next year are staggering, hundreds of millions of pounds, all of which is typically going into critical biomedical research”.258 Professor Pearce said that what was needed was a “long-term and stable solution for funding biomedical research that is not wholly reliant or largely dependent on the charity funding that we have at the moment”.259

UK Government R&D Roadmap

115.The UK Government published its Research and Development Roadmap260 in July 2020. Upon the announcement the Government said its long-term objectives for R&D are for the UK “to be a science superpower and invest in the science and research that will deliver economic growth and societal benefits across the UK for decades to come, and to build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow”.261 This was followed by a commitment in the Budget to increase public investment in R&D to £22 billion by 2024 to 2025.262

116.The Roadmap was warmly welcomed by those who gave evidence to us. Professor Chris Pearce,263 Professor Rebecca Lunn,264 and Professor James Conroy265 particularly welcomed the dual commitment of increasing money in real terms and of reaching 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D, especially in light of the pandemic. The Roadmap was also welcomed by Universities UK.266

Impact of reduced UK ODA spend on Scottish academic research

117.In response to the immediate economic pressures the UK faced as a result of the pandemic, the UK Government decided in November 2020 to temporarily reduce the funds it would make available for Official Development Assistance (ODA) from 0.7% to 0.5% of UK Gross National Income (GNI).267 On 11 March 2021 UKRI wrote to higher education institutions to explain that this decision would have a “significant impact” on the work it funded under ODA programmes.268 UKRI went on to say:

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s ODA allocation to UKRI has reduced significantly its planned ODA expenditure for FY21/22, leading to a £125m budget and a £120m gap between allocations and commitments to grant holders. It is too early to detail the final impact of this review on individual grants funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), Newton Fund and other ODA funds within our councils including Innovate UK.269

118.The decision to reduce UK ODA spend from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI, and the implications this has for the financing of UK academic research, has been criticised by the higher education sector, especially in Scotland, with Universities Scotland saying:

[ … ] the scale of cuts is significantly higher than expected, at an eye watering 70% according to the latest estimates. The implications of this announcement appear to be completely at odds with the UK Government’s bold ambitions [in the UK Government R&D Roadmap] to make the UK a science superpower and increase investment in research and development and with the UK’s stated aim to recast itself as a “global Britain” in the wake of Brexit.

[ … ] UKRI have indicated that they will have to reprofile and reduce grants and may have to terminate some projects that are already in progress. This is previously unheard of. Doing so would abandon many communities in low and middle income countries around the world [ … ]. It threatens to undermine the trust we and mutual respect have built up with our partners, over decades, as an essential component of overseas development. It sends a message about what the UK does and does not value, which is fundamentally at odds with the values of Scotland’s universities. It poses a huge financial risk to the sector and a risk to jobs and the prospects of early career researchers. Ultimately, termination before completion is a waste of huge amounts of time, good faith and public money that will not, if cancelled, have a chance of achieving its purpose but cannot be recouped.270

119.The Chancellor has said that sticking rigidly to the ODA target was difficult to justify under current economic circumstances but that he intended to return to 0.7% “when the fiscal situation allows”.271

120.The UK Government should be praised for its UK Research and Development Roadmap, especially the commitment to reach 2.4% of GDP spend in this area, which has been extensively welcomed by academic institutions in Scotland. The UK Government should ensure that the commitments it made in the UK Research and Development Roadmap are not derailed as a result of the temporary reduction in UK ODA spend.

UK Research and Innovation

UKRI role and governance

121.UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).272 Its main purpose is to “invest in and facilitate research and innovation activities across the United Kingdom, and, through Research England, directly support higher education providers in England to carry out research and knowledge exchange activities.”273 Its funding decisions are “made independently from Government” and are made “through independent evaluation by experts, based on the quality and likely impact of that research”.274 The Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is however “accountable to Parliament for UKRI business and retains the publicly accountable role for overarching policy”.275 In terms of governance:

UKRI funding for Scottish academic research

122.Iain Stewart MP, Minister for Scotland, told us that that Scottish universities were “punching way above their weight” in terms of receipt of UKRI funding.283 He went on to say that “Scotland’s approximate share of the UK is 8% in terms of population or economic GDP, but through UKRI funding Scottish universities get 13%”.284 However, the National Audit Office report on the UKRI Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, from February 2021, found that “the Fund is unevenly spread across the UK with the majority being provided to the West Midlands, South East and London”.285 It found that only 6.5% of the funding went to Scotland, compared to 44.2%286 going to London and the South East of England.287 In relation to this the RSE Young Academy of Scotland told us that “Scotland emerges as an area which has not received the support it deserves, with historically poor success in Industrial Strategy Challenge Funds.”288

123.On the subject of regional disparities in UKRI funding, Iain Stewart MP said to us “I don’t think there is a problem there to be solved. I don’t think we should get into the position of allocating money purely on a geographic basis. It is the strength of the bids and the strength of the research programmes [that lead to UKRI funding allocations].”289

124.Other criticisms of UKRI funding brought to our attention included, from Dr Vicky Johnson, University of the Highlands, that its “money tends to go to the older universities, and not the post-1992s or the very new universities”.290 Also, from Professor James Conroy, University of Glasgow, that “everything is not sewn together quite as well as it might be” as “UKRI is supposed to be bringing everything together, but it still feels like separate research councils under an umbrella organisation.”291 Furthermore, the RSE Young Academy of Scotland told us that:

Research funding allocated by UKRI also appears biased by gender, ethnicity and age; funding success rates are systematically lower for women; in engineering and physical sciences, the gap deepens as grants get larger, with the difference in success rates even greater (over 10%) between white and black and other minority ethnic groups investigators. This is a particular threat for Scottish universities, when funding diversity and inclusivity is essential to foster innovation, growth and sustainability and attract and retain a diverse talent base.292

Scottish influence in UKRI

125.UKRI’s Framework Document says that “BEIS will regularly engage with the devolved administrations on UKRI’s priorities, including with respect to how UKRI and the devolved funding bodies can most effectively work together to support the UK’s research and innovation base”, and that this will be complemented by “several types” of direct engagement between UKRI and the devolved administrations.293 However, during the course of our inquiry witnesses have questioned whether Scotland has a prominent enough role and sufficient influence within UKRI strategy and decision-making.294 In the view of Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows:

While UKRI has responsibility for research across the whole of the UK, within it sits Research England. However, the research funding councils and bodies in the devolved nations are not formally represented in UKRI decision-making structures. Therefore, careful consideration needs to be given to UKRI culture, arrangements and structures to ensure that it is able to fully take account of the needs, priorities and contributions of Scotland and the other devolved nations.295

126.Professor James Conroy, University of Glasgow, thought the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) was an “afterthought” in deliberations about how UK-wide funding is delivered.296 In his view:

We need to have much more robust engagement between SFC and the English bodies, [and] particularly [with] UKRI, to make sure the funding is level and to make sure that the various additional investments that sometimes come on the back of QR and so on also make their way into Scottish universities at the same level as in English universities.297

127.Alastair Sim, Universities Scotland, told us that Scotland’s voice within UKRI was “still something that needs vigilance”.298 He was keen to see a “strong Scottish research voice on the board of UKRI” in succession to Sir Ian Diamond from the University of Aberdeen.299 He went on to say:

[Integrating Research England into UKRI was not] necessarily the best thing to do. It does give a kind of instinctive closeness to a subset of UK institutions within UKRI just because there are some institutions they work more closely with than others because of the Research England embedding. We argued at the time, given the whole of the UK’s interest in UKRI and given also that devolved administrations are quite major funders of research, that they should have a structurally integral role in deciding UKRI’s priorities, along with the UK Government. I do not think that ever quite happened. I do not think anyone is acting with bad intent, but there is a sort of gravity of things. For instance, in the most recent project to support Covid, the research grant for that, only about 5% came to Scotland.300

128.Providing the perspective of the UK Government, Minister Stewart told us he did “not think there was a problem to be solved” as there was already “strong representation of Scottish interests” within UKRI.301 Supporting this, Rebecca Hackett, Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, said in her evidence:

[ … ] we work very proactively to encourage Scottish applicants to the board positions across UK Government agencies, but particularly focused on UKRI and Innovate UK, and it will be the same approach for the new ARIA agency [ … ]. While there is not a specific board role that is allocated for individuals in Scottish institutions, we are very proactive in sharing information on forthcoming vacancies, working closely with colleagues in [the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy] to get that information out there to Scottish stakeholders at the earliest opportunity, and working with stakeholders to connect them in if they are interested in roles.302

129.Minister Stewart also made the point that the UK Government has established, between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, a Ministerial Taskforce looking at the sustainability of research funding.303 The Minister pointed out that Richard Lochhead MSP was a member of that Taskforce and so there was “direct [Scottish Government] input into looking at the broad future of research funding”.304

130.The work of Scottish universities in combating covid-19 has been nothing short of remarkable. Going forward, the academic outputs of Scottish universities will not only support our economic recovery following the pandemic but also bolster the UK’s standing in the world as we forge new post-Brexit international relationships. In return, Scottish academic research institutions deserve appropriate recognition and influence at UK-level. Scottish institutions should be given greater prominence and influence within UKRI decision-making structures. That should include a seat on the UKRI Board (as is already the case for English institutions such as the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge), which is at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and a seat on the UKRI Executive Committee, for example for the Scottish Funding Council (in the same way that Research England are already represented), which is at the discretion of UKRI CEO (who should take into account public sector goals, such as ensuring that the voices of all UK nations are appropriately welcomed and heard).

UK participation in Horizon Europe

Horizon 2020 and its funding of Scottish academic research

131.Horizon 2020 was the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation. The UK was both a significant contributor to and beneficiary from Horizon 2020 with, between 2014 and 2016, the highest share of participants in signed grant agreements (12.8% of total Horizon 2020 participants)305 and the second highest share of programme funding distributed (at 15.2%, behind Germany on 16.7%).306 Professor Tim Bedford, University of Strathclyde, told us that Scotland as a whole secured €755 million over the six-year Horizon 2020 programme, which was 1.3% of the total Horizon 2020 budget, and Scotland’s higher universities got 81% of that.307 Minster Lochhead pointed out that Scotland had benefited more from Horizon 2020 compared with the rest of the UK.308 He also noted that:

Universities’ research excellence plays a big role in attracting Horizon funding. [ … ] It is extremely important, and about 68% of all research in Scottish universities comes from Europe. As much of that as we can protect as possible is really important for the sustainability of research and higher education in Scotland, so it is really important both in terms of the collaboration and the culture of that collaboration, as well as the actual hard cash that comes in through Horizon. I know the Russell Group, for instance, said that for every £1 spent on research in Scotland, over £5 is created in the economy.309

Participation in Horizon Europe

132.Horizon Europe is the EU’s €100 billion research and innovation programme that succeeds Horizon 2020 and runs from 2021 to 2027. The programme aims to strengthen European science and technology research, boost innovation capacity, competitiveness and jobs, and deliver on citizens’ priorities.310 Many in the science and research sectors, such as Wellcome, argued that the UK should associate to Horizon Europe following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This was because “EU Framework Programmes are the most ambitious multilateral funding schemes in the world, and participation is increasingly global”.311

133.The EU-UK Trade and Corporation Agreement, struck on 24 December 2020, confirms that—unlike Erasmus+—the UK would continue to participate in Horizon Europe following the end of the Transition Period. This decision was widely praised by the science and research sectors312 and those who gave evidence to us, including Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows who welcomed the decision,313 and Minister Lochhead, who said it was in “the best interests of Scotland”.314 Iain Stewart MP, Minister for Scotland, told us that:

Horizon is an incredibly important scheme. [The UK Government] often get accused of taking a dogmatic approach, that if something has its origins in the EU, then it is intrinsically bad. That is absolutely not what we have done. We have taken a very pragmatic look. Projects like Horizon, which [ … ] deliver enormous benefits, we actively wanted to remain part of. That is what we have done in the [EU-UK Trade and Corporation] Agreement.315

UK influence in, and investment from, Horizon Europe

134.It is currently unclear how much influence the UK will have over Horizon Europe. The Declarations agreed between the UK and EU as part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement state that the UK “shall participate as an associated country in all parts of the Horizon Europe programme”, and that UK “entities may participate in direct actions of the Joint Research Centre”316 (the EU Commission’s science and knowledge service), but “without voting rights”.317 In addition, the EU Commission’s guidance note on UK participation in Horizon Europe states that the EU is able to exclude the UK from elements of Horizon Europe:

In duly justified exceptional cases for actions related to Union strategic assets, interests, autonomy or security, Horizon Europe work programmes may provide that the participation can be limited to those legal entities established in Member States only, or, to those legal entities established in specified associated or other third countries in addition to Member States. Moreover, for duly justified and exceptional reasons, in order to guarantee the protection of the strategic interests of the Union and its Member States, the work programme may also exclude the participation of legal entities established in the Union or in associated countries directly or indirectly controlled by non-associated third countries or by legal entities of nonassociated third countries from individual calls, or make their participation subject to conditions set out in the work programme.318

135.The US has previously had concerns over potential involvement in Horizon Europe. Constance Arvis, Director for Science and Technology Cooperation, US State Department, said in February 2020 that association in Horizon Europe would allow the European Commission to exclude associated countries from elements of the programme and “while this may sound like the right of a funder to determine how money is spent, when a country associates, it becomes a funder. Therefore, this could mean reduced access and-or influence over monies that an associated country has provided to the collaboration.”319

136.When we asked Minister Lochhead how much of a risk there was that the UK, and therefore Scotland, will lose influence over Horizon and benefit from its contributions going forward, he told us that was “a real concern that has been expressed by the sector”, especially as projects based in the EU may look like a “more attractive destination” for Horizon collaborations.320 Not only might the UK now look like a less attractive place for Horizon collaboration, but Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows made the point to us that UK applications for Horizon funding had decreased in recent years:

While Scotland has traditionally done very well at securing competitive research funding from the EU, analysis has shown that the UK’s annual share of EU research funding has fallen by half a billion Euros since 2015 and there has been a 40% drop in UK applications to Horizon Europe. Substantial work will be needed to encourage UK researchers to take up the opportunities that association to Horizon Europe provides.321

137.Minister Stewart did not think the UK or Scotland would be disadvantaged as an associate member of Horizon Europe.322 Expanding on this further, Rebecca Hackett, Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, informed us that:

[ … ] there are certain rules on what associate members can do in comparison to full members in terms of leading consortia. It comes back to [ … ] the strength of the UK’s offer in terms of research and innovation and that ability to bring in international partners, which is something that has really been recognised. If you look at Israel as an example of a country that has huge strengths, as an associate member it has been able to play a very full role, similarly for Switzerland, Norway and others. We are very confident that the UK and the institutions across the UK will be able to play a very full part in the programme and benefit enormously. Having had that membership of the programme and the track record of participating, we should be in a very good place to do that.323

138.The Horizon programme has been, and will continue to be, vital to Scottish academic research. It aids Scotland’s universities in their quest to tackle the biggest global challenges. We praise the UK Government for ensuring the UK’s continued participation; it is an investment worth making. Concerns have however been raised about the UK’s status as a non-EU member. The UK Government should ensure that the UK reaps the maximum possible benefits from Horizon Europe in areas such as health, climate and energy and is not disadvantaged as a non-EU member or inappropriately excluded from relevant programmes. In addition if, for any reason, the UK receives less in competitive grants than its financial contributions, the UK Government should explore why this might be and, if appropriate, seek to adjust its financial contribution accordingly.

The internationalisation agenda of Scottish universities and international research collaborations

139.Professor Nigel Seaton, Abertay University, told us that higher education is “fundamentally international”.324 Universities Scotland have also stated that “internationalisation is top of the agenda for Scottish universities”325 and, in July 2020, they published a report on the importance of internationalisation for Scottish universities.326 The RSE Young Academy of Scotland point out that one of the key reasons behind Scotland’s internalisation agenda is that “with a population growth rate below 1%, and large poorly populated areas, Scotland’s industries rely upon an influx of non-Scottish born people across all sectors”.327 They go on to say that “recruitment and retention of an innovative, multi-cultural workforce is essential for research, development, up-skilling and competitiveness of local communities”.328 Outlining the importance of international recruitment, Universities Scotland highlight that “staff from outside the UK make up 22.3% of the workforce in Scotland’s universities, which is higher than in universities across the rest of the UK”.329

140.Scottish academic research also has great success internationally. The RSE Young Academy of Scotland told us that Scotland’s researchers publish extensively outside Scotland (89% Scotland vs UK 72%) through “high impact collaborations”.330 Professor Chris Pearce, University of Glasgow, also noted that:

[ … ] with less than 0.1% of the global population, Scotland has 2% of the world’s most highly cited research outputs and 1% of the world’s most highly cited authors. Relative to the size of our population, this is better than the rest of the UK and better than high-performing countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. This pattern is also seen in the number of papers that we publish with international co-authors, demonstrating that Scotland has an internationally connected and collaborative research community.331

141.Rachel Sandison, University of Glasgow, told us that Scottish international research is a powerful tool for international collaboration and connections, with 57% of publications currently involving international collaboration, so “ensuring that the framework exists to allow that success to continue is going to be absolutely mission critical”.332 The Scottish Government website lists some of Scotland’s major current international research collaborations.333

UK immigration policy: international research collaboration

142.On UK immigration and visa policies, and the implications these have on academic research in Scotland, Minister Lochhead told us that the Scottish Government was working with the UK Government to make it easier for international researchers to come to Scotland, in particular to look at extending the validity of some visas beyond the current 90-day limit.334

143.Minister Lochhead also said that—following Brexit—Scottish researchers and academics are “worried” about “the hostile immigration policy and what that means in terms of Scotland being seen as an open and welcoming country”.335 Professor James Conroy, University of Glasgow, made the point that UK immigration polices need to be competitive with other English-speaking countries, such as the US and Australia.336

144.In terms of ensuring that the UK remains an attractive place to work in for international academics, Iain Stewart MP, Minister for Scotland, highlighted to us that the Government is working on an International Education Strategy, headed up by Sir Steve Smith, “that is looking at the whole piece of making the UK academically a hugely attractive place to come and work and study” (and is due to conclude in the summer of 2021).337

145.A UK immigration policy raised—and praised—by many witnesses to this inquiry was the Post-study work visa (detailed further in paragraph 78).338 Witnesses were also complimentary of the UK’s Global Talent visa, and its ability to facilitate inward mobility of world-leading research talent. Wellcome have said the Global Talent visa “is an excellent first step towards ensuring that administrative barriers facing researchers coming to the UK are as low as possible”.339 They have however criticized its cost, noting that “the UK is one of the most expensive countries in the world for immigration charges”.340 Both Minister Lochhead341 and Wellcome have highlighted that there is:

[ … ] an upfront cost of more than £13,000 for a family of four on a five-year Global Talent visa. In contrast, the French Talent visa is approximately £1,000 for the same family.342

146.Wellcome go on to say that “for the Global Talent visa to be a globally competitive offer for researchers, and particularly for those early on in their careers, this must be revisited as a priority”.343 They also point out that:

UK [visa] charges are more than five times higher than the average for leading science nations. If the Government is serious about attracting research talent to the UK it should substantially reduce these charges so that they are in line with other competitor countries, and account for any effective cross-subsidy of [the Department of Health and Social Care] to effectively reduce or remove the Immigration Health Surcharge as needed.344

147.Scottish universities are inherently international institutions; international collaborations play a big part in their successes. In addition, Scottish universities act as much-valued international hubs in their local communities, bringing important cultural benefits. Scottish universities’ internationalisation agenda should therefore be supported. The UK Government has a major role to play in this in terms of how it develops its foreign and immigration policies. The UK Government should be praised for introducing the post-study work visa, which plays a key role in attracting, and then retaining, the brightest and best students from overseas. The Global Talent visa is also very welcome, but its cost should be addressed. Wellcome has highlighted that, for an international academic with a spouse and children to move to the UK, it would cost around £13,000 for visas (and associated costs) to work in the UK under a five-year Global Talent visa, compared to around £1,000 in France. In order to allow Scotland to remain competitive and attractive to the best international research talent, who can bring so much to our economy and society, the UK Government should reduce the cost of visas for international researchers and their families, to a level competitive with countries such as France. If the UK Government decides not to reduce the cost of the Global Talent visa (and associated costs for the families of ‘lead’ applicants), the UK Government should seek to justify the reasons for these high fees in comparison to other countries. The UK Government should also take a pragmatic approach to researcher visa extensions, especially in light of covid-19, which has caused unavoidable delays to some research projects.

Role of EU nationals in Scottish academic research

148.As our predecessor Committee noted in its Report on Immigration and Scotland, in 2018, EU citizens make up around 17% of academic staff and 25% of research staff at Scottish universities.345 During our inquiry witnesses spoke to us about how “vulnerable” this makes the research sector in Scotland following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.346 Professor Tim Bedford, University of Strathclyde, noted that:

If you look at the proportion of people who are working in high-value, knowledge-based functions in our industries, a large proportion of those people have come into the country from Europe in particular. They have come through doing courses, potentially going on to PhDs, then staying in the country, adding talent and creating wealth for the nation. There is a real risk that, if we do not manage this transition very carefully, there will be a break and the flow outwards of talent to other international centres will continue. If we block off the stream of talent that is coming in, there is a danger of a brain drain over the next 10 years, which would have potentially disastrous consequences.347

149.Professor Katherine Smith, University of Strathclyde, told us that—despite the fact that most EU nationals are allowed to continue working in the UK—she was “really clear from conversations with colleagues working in Scotland, who were born in other European countries, that they are concerned and are feeling less welcome” following Brexit and that “almost all of them have started to explore whether they could move elsewhere in Europe”.348 We heard a similar picture from Professor Rebecca Lunn, who informed us that “a number of eastern European academics, who are very talented, have decided to go back, and a number of people have pulled out of interviews”.349 Karen Watt, Scottish Funding Council, welcomed the UK’s post-study work visa—and thought it would be an important part of the UK’s package that EU nationals will access post-Brexit—but also commented that the general environment and welcome that EU nationals receive post-Brexit matters.350

150.Iain Stewart MP, Minister for Scotland, told us that what underpins the UK Government’s “strategy is to maintain good links with Europe, with our partners and friends, trading partners and academic links”—he “absolutely” wanted that to continue.351 That said, he also noted that:

Whether it is the Turing scheme or some of the other research and development that we want to see, I am absolutely convinced that Scotland’s best interest is as part of that global British ambition and not just limited to the borders of Europe.352

151.Academic institutions in Scotland depend on partnerships and connections with institutions across the EU. That includes academics who come from the EU to work in Scotland, who often specialise in highly technical areas which can be difficult to recruit from elsewhere. Whilst immigration policies are key, it’s also important to create a hospitable environment where academics feel welcome. We have heard during our inquiry that academics from the EU working in Scotland have been returning to the EU, and that job applications from EU academics are being withdrawn. We have been told that this is not because they are not allowed to stay or come to Scotland, it is because they do not feel welcome following Brexit. The UK Government must promote a positive narrative—including by using its significant diplomatic reach—that, whilst we have left the EU, the UK and Scotland remain an attractive place to work for EU nationals and the brightest and best the EU has to offer are not just ‘allowed’ to work here, but are actively welcomed.

237 Universities Scotland, Internationally Scottish - Creating global communities (July 2020), p 12

238Putting Scottish science and research on the world stage”, Scottish Government, 13 June 2019

239 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 5

240 University of Glasgow (USC0003) p 6

241 University of Edinburgh (USC0004) p 7

245 Secretary of State at the Scotland Office (USC0011)

252 Audit Scotland, Finances of Scottish universities, September 2019, para 33

253 Audit Scotland (USC0002) para 16

261 HMG, ‘UK Research and Development Roadmap’, accessed 20 April 2021

262 HMG, ‘UK Research and Development Roadmap’, accessed 20 April 2021

267 House of Commons Library, ‘Spending Review: Reducing the 0.7% aid commitment’, accessed 19 April 2021

270Cuts to ODA funding undermines UK’s “Global Britain” agenda”, Universities Scotland, 26 March 2021

271 House of Commons Library, ‘Spending Review: Reducing the 0.7% aid commitment’, accessed 19 April 2021

272 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 6

273 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 6

274 UKRI, ‘Our relationship with the government’, accessed 20 April 2021

275 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 16

276 UKRI, ‘UKRI Board’, accessed 20 April 2021

277 UKRI, ‘UKRI Board’, accessed 20 April 2021

278 UKRI, ‘UKRI Board’, accessed 20 April 2021

279 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 33

280 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 33

281 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 33

282 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 19

286 London = 17%, South East England = 27.2% (National Audit Office, UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, 5 February 2021, p 30)

288 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 6

292 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 6

293 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UKRI Framework Document, May 2018, p 38

294 Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows (USC0013) para 26

295 Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows (USC0013) para 26

305 European Commission, Horizon 2020 in full swing: Three years on (December 2017), p 27

306 European Commission, Horizon 2020 in full swing: Three years on (December 2017), p 28

310 Wellcome, Why the UK should associate to Horizon Europe (November 2019), p 4

311 Wellcome, Why the UK should associate to Horizon Europe (November 2019), p 1

313 Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows (USC0013) para 16

316 HM Government, EU-UK Declarations (24 December 2020), p 18

317 HM Government, EU-UK Declarations (24 December 2020), p 18

318 European Commission, Q&A on the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe (25 February 2021), p 3

319US demands better terms for taking part in Horizon Europe”, University World News, 15 February 2020

321 Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellows (USC0013) para 16

325 Universities Scotland, ‘Internationalisation is top of the agenda for Scottish universities’, accessed 26 April 2021

326 Universities Scotland, Internationally Scottish - Creating global communities (July 2020)

327 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 2

328 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 3

329 Universities Scotland, Internationally Scottish - Creating global communities (July 2020), p 10

330 RSE Young Academy of Scotland (USC0006) p 3

333 Scottish Government, ‘Science and research: University research’, accessed 26 April 2021

338 For example: Q24 & Q25

340 Wellcome, Priorities for the 2020 Spending Review (September 2020), p 5

344 Wellcome, Priorities for the 2020 Spending Review (September 2020), p 5

345 Scottish Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, Immigration and Scotland, HC 488, para 15

346 For example: Q94

Published: 28 May 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement