A WARNING from university leaders that the world class reputation of Scotland’s higher education and research sectors is at risk because of Brexit must be heeded by the UK Government, the SNP said yesterday.

The SNP has called on Westminster to start listening after key bodies warned of the huge damage a hard Brexit could cause.

In newly published evidence to the House of Common’s Scottish Affairs Committee, Universities Scotland warned that the UK could become “intellectually and culturally impoverished” as a result of leaving the EU if the current mobility of academic talent was not maintained.

It called for early confirmation of the immigration status of EU nationals to avoid an “exodus of talent” among 4,500 “highly valued” staff.

The submission also warned that Brexit was already damaging the ability of Scottish universities to compete in a “fiercely challenging global market” for international students. In addition, it said cutting off Scottish students from schemes such as Erasmus would damage the next generation of graduates and the future workforce.

Separately, in its evidence, Research Councils UK (RCUK) warned that while Scottish research and innovation currently had global significance there were “real” risks posed by Brexit.

That current uncertainty meant students, researchers and technical specialists required for UK research to be a world leader could leave or not come to the UK – and that the EU funding, infrastructure and collaboration that made UK research successful was at risk.

The Scottish Affairs Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Scotland’s place in Europe after the result of the EU referendum, which saw 62 per cent of voters in Scotland in favour of remaining in the EU.

“The UK Government cannot continue to ignore the serious warnings coming from our universities and research bodies about the huge and long-term damage leaving the EU could do to our vital higher education sector and the wider economy,” said Stephen Gethins MP, the SNP spokesperson on Europe.

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“Leaving the EU is far and away the biggest threat to jobs and long-term prosperity, with the potential to cost the Scottish economy up to 80,000 jobs over the next decade and up to £11.2 billion per year by 2030.

“The damage to our world-leading universities and research institutes could be particularly severe – so it is essential that the UK Government starts having a meaningful dialogue with the devolved administrations that enables our universities to continue to thrive with continued European funding and research collaborations in the EU and further afield.

“Scotland’s universities are a global success story that enrich us financially and socially. Partly, that success is built upon their ability to attract the brightest and best in staff and students from the EU and beyond.

“They also contribute hugely to that success. Leaving the EU risks damaging their reputation, while making Scotland smaller and more insular, when we want to be inclusive and more outward looking.

“Our universities need more than warm words on the crucial issues they are raising.

“The SNP will continue to do everything we can in government and at Westminster to protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU – in line with the clear wishes of the Scottish people and the interests of the country.”

In the submission, Universities Scotland stresses that Scotland should have a “strong role” in the Brexit negotiations and expresses disappointment that the Secretary of State of Scotland is not a member of the UK Government’s newly constituted sub-committee on Brexit.

It goes on to point out: “Scotland’s university research is widely recognised as among the best in the world with three-quarters of our research described as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Our research excellence is underpinned by significant funding from Europe and, just as importantly, extensive European collaborations. The major challenges that we face today, including climate change, food security or finding a cure for cancers, are not going to be solved by researchers working in isolation in Scotland. It is therefore essential that Scottish universities can continue to collaborate with colleagues across the EU.”