UK gov’t response to Scottish uni report “baffling”

Published 27/04/2022

The UK government has rejected recommendations to give Scottish institutions a seat on the UK Research and Innovation board for “no good reason”, one Scottish MP has said.

Pete Wishart, MP and Scottish Affairs Committee chair, criticised the UK government for its response to the committee’s May 2021 report on the Scottish universities sector saying it “contains many words but says very little”.

The report, Universities and Scotland, included recommendations to give Scottish institutions “greater prominence and influence” within UKRI, which is responsible for overseeing research and knowledge in the UK.

The government’s response, released today, said that “appointments to the UKRI Board are made on personal experience and skill set via open competition”.

The committee also recommended that the Turing Scheme, which facilitates overseas study and work placements for students, be expanded to support inward mobility to the UK for both international students and academic staff – something that was previously possible via the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme.

The government said it had committed to maintaining funding for the mobility scheme, but that it “prioritises pupils, students and learners over staff and inward mobility funding”.

Westminster also said that EU president Ursula Von der Leyen had confirmed that it is not legally possible for Scotland to remain in the Erasmus+ program, following the committee’s request that the government allow them to pursue this.

The UK government rejected the committee’s recommendation to reduce the cost of global talent visas in order to “remain competitive”, saying that fees are “broadly in line with our competitors across a range of visa types”.

“If Scottish universities are to continue punching above their weight, they need appropriate support from government”

Responding to this, Wishart said that “losing out on academic and research partnerships as a result of Brexit and sky high visa fees are significantly damaging our ability to continue to attract the brightest and best”.

“If Scottish universities are to continue punching above their weight, they need appropriate support from government”.

Universities Scotland told The PIE News that the policy decisions by the UK government “can have a significant impact to deliver the best we can for society, especially in research and our international work” but that it would “continue to engage with the UK government and lobby them to achieve the best results we can for Scottish higher education”.

“We are keen to collaborate to make our shared ambitions a reality”

A spokesperson from the Scottish Funding Council, which oversees funding of Scotland’s universities and colleges, said that it “looks forward to continuing and deepening our partnership with UKRI”.

“We are keen to collaborate to make our shared ambitions a reality and harness opportunities for Scotland’s research community,” SFC told The PIE News.

The committee has sent a follow-up letter asking Westminster to clarify a number of points, including whether the government will consider “ringfencing” UKRI seats for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“It is baffling that this disappointing response to our Committee’s report took 10 months,” Wishart said.

“This is a priority area for this Committee, and I hope the government reflects on the points we have made and responds to our follow-up letter more swiftly.”

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