SCOTLAND has mair warld-class universities than ony ither nation on Earth, per heid o population. Exceptin Luxembourg like, but they’re diddy sae dinnae count. Accordin tae the Office o National Statistics, we hae the best educatit population in the hail o Europe. George Elder Davie’s The Democratic Intellect pit forrit that the egalitarianism that’s sae close tae oor herts is a direct inheritance o oor mair open an accessible university system. But oor 19 universities are awa tae tak twa o the sairest dunts they’ve tane in their hail history.

First, they hae tae transition fae bein kenspeckle European an global institutions tae parochial Brexit British anes. Secont, an even afore thon Brexit-apocalypse has the chance tae breenge owre the horizon an blooter them, the universities are slittin their ain thrapples by ettlin tae end their decent, fair pension scheme.

Universities in Scotland are a fundamental pairt o oor contribution tae the warld. They are centres o excellence. They bring international thinkers tae Scotland. The faither o evolutionary theory, big Charlie Darwin, aince studied at Embra University, pleuterin aboot in the Firth o Forth luikin fir specimens. Lord Kelvin, faither o modren physics an the pre-eminent scientist o the hail o the 19th century, wis baith educatit at Glasgae University an held chair there for owre 50 year. This trend fir brilliance kept richt on through the 20th century, an noo Nobel Prize medals are used as coasters aroon Scotland’s institutions.

Universities here attract fowk fae ootwith Scotland that ging on tae contribute tae oor society. Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP, fir exaimple, is ane o the strangest advocates o an independent Scotland, an he flittit tae Aiberdeen fae his hame in Ulster tae study.

Perhaps maist importantly they gie local Scots a warld-class stage tae test theirsels on richt here at hame an gie them opportunities. Mind aye that twa-thirds o aa students here are Scots, an that the vast majority o them went tae yer usual state scuils, naethin fancy.

These kenspeckle institutions that sae define us, nurture oor distinct national identity an gie oor bairns a real chance at a great education couldnae hae succedit in a single bit o it gin they wernae open wide tae the warld in ilka sense.

Europeans are the life bluid o oor institutions. Oot o oor 19 universities, 10 o them hae mair or at least as mony students fae European countries as they dae fae England an Wales. This is vital, as these young learners learn alangside the Scottish students, an allow them tae mak pals, practice foreign leids, big up netwarks that will gie them opportunities abroad, an expose them tae challengin an different ideas an behaviours.

The certain result o the loss o access tae EU labour mercats an provision o decent pensions is a decline in the status o oor universities. This deeply affects Scotland the Brand. Oor education system is central tae wha we are as a nation, an whit oor contribution tae the warld is. It also means oor bairns tyne the chance tae study at the tap level here at hame. Scotland will nae langer be able tae offer the best tae its ain.

Scottish universities hae aaready seen their nummer o EU applicants slump. Efter a decade o aye-increasin applications, the Brexit bourach has flegged oor European pals. Studyin abroad is awfy stressfu as it is: flittin fae yer hame whaur ye’ve mibbie bade aa yer life, spikkin a tongue that’s mibbie nae yer ain, makin new pals an tholin fairly dreich conditions throu the winter… then ye hear that fowk in the country yer gingin tae dinnae even want ye there. Nae wonder young Europeans are aff tae tak their bricht minds an aspirations tae ither airts.

Europeans fae non-UK countries are ane o the corner stanes o teachin an research. In Scotland a quarter o aa research staff in oor universities are EU nationals. 17 per cent o aa academic staff are the same. An they maun be thinkin that their jaickets are on a gey shoogly peg, wi their status efter Brexit remainin unclear.

Mak nae mistake. Gin Brexit is forced on tae us, the gemme’s up. Nae mair will fifty thoosan young fowk fae aa owre Europe apply tae come an study alangside us, an jyne in wi oor culture an education. Nae langer will professors at the heid o their field in engineerin, history, law an aahin else come tae educate us. The EU is a key source o the fuel that keeps the northern licht o oor universities burnin.

But there’s anither, mair present threat tae oor institutions pleyin oot richt the noo at universities across Scotland. Universities are intae their fourth week o strikes, an the main union, the University an College Union (UCU), hae just decidit tae gie their memmers the richt tae tak anither fowerteen strike days.

The stooshie is owre pensions. Lecturers an research staff hae tholed deep cuts tae conditions, stagnant pey an aye increasin responsibilities owre the last decade. An noo their pensions are tae be utterly reduced in security.

Dr Andra Mackillop, senior lecturer in Scottish History intae Glasgae University, telt me at the picket line: “This threap owre pensions is yet mair pruif that the structures o oor public services are being dung doon. University high heid yins consider their ain staff as nae mair nor financial liabilities, an students as piñata fu o siller tae be dunted at will. They use discredit business models fae the private sector, an their management strategies hae gied us naethin but a decade o slaw decline in salaries an noo shairp decline in pensions.”

The career o academics is a gey short ane. It taks them till efter they’re 30 tae get their qualifications an a teachin post. Then they hae tae flit theirsels an their faimlies ony place they can get wark. Then they hae tae publish new research aa the time tae keep theirsels relevant, warkin aa the hours God gies them. In among aa that they educate, test an nurture the next generation.

They can ainly earn fir mibbie 30 years, gin they wark consistently, which isnae aye likely. Sae a pension deal that acknowledges aa the learnin required tae lecture, aa the mountains o unpeyed hours involved, an aa the patience in dealin wi wee bams just oo o scuil speirin the same daft hings year in year oot is ainly fair. It’s the bare minimum that needs peyed in order tae maintain oor pre-eminent place at the tap table o warld education.

The greedy scunners at Universities UK are lettin the rich grow richer aff the institutions we haud dear.

This double dunt fae Brexit an the grotesque, immoral greed o the university high heid yins micht weel damage them ayont repair. The strike will haud forrit, an we should aa support it.

An Brexit maun be avoidit afore its owre late. Inflictin cuts tae the quality o oor universities wad dae mair damage tae Scotland the Brand, an Scotland the actual place we bide, nor ony Union Jack on a shortbreid tin could dae.