Nine former principals of Scottish universities have said that the risks of independence for higher education in Scotland would “considerably outweigh” any potential benefits.
They raise fears that independence would cause Scottish institutions to lose access to UK-wide charities and funding councils, and make the current tuition fees situation in Scotland legally untenable.
Their public statement is in contrast to serving Scottish principals, who have generally remained neutral on the question of independence.
In the letter, released yesterday, the principals say that they “firmly believe that the brightest and best future for higher education in Scotland is to remain in the UK”.
“Scottish universities are rightly regarded as among the best in the world. In Scotland we have a distinctive tradition of academic excellence, backed up by being integrated into the larger UK academic system. It’s the best of both worlds. That means keeping the strength, stability and security of the UK research system and big funding from UK charities and UK research councils,” the letter says.
In the event of independence, the Scottish government hopes to continue to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year to attend institutions north of the border, while Scots and other EU nationalities go free.
This situation is legal now because under EU law states are allowed to discriminate within their borders.
But if Scotland became independent, the principals say that this stance would become illegal under EU law, although the Scottish government has said it hopes to convince the EU to allow the current situation to continue.
“Having analysed the evidence we can see no circumstances in which a separate Scotland could charge tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK. But we don’t have to face this problem; it can be avoided by voting to stay in the UK,” the principals say.
“Our considered opinion is that the risks and uncertainties of leaving the UK would very considerably outweigh any potential benefits,” the letter concludes.
The signatories are: Sir Graeme Davies, former principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow 1995-2003; Andrew Hamnett, former principal and vice-chancellor of Strathclyde University 2001-2009; Brian Lang, former principal and vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews 2001-2008; John Mavor, former principal and vice-chancellor of Napier University 1994-2003; Andrew Miller, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Stirling 1994-2001; Sir Duncan Rice, former principal of the University of Aberdeen 1996-2010; Richard Shaw, principal of the University of Paisley (now University of the West of Scotland) 1987-2001; Sir David Smith, former principal of the University of Edinburgh 1987-1994; and Lord Stewart Sutherland, former principal of the University of Edinburgh 1994-2002 and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2002-2005.