High-flyers lured south

May 6, 2005

Scottish universities face the threat of a brain drain to the south, a Scottish principal has warned, writes Olga Wojtas.

English universities, bolstered by the prospect of future income from top-up fees, are increasingly raiding Scottish higher education to poach research stars, according to Ian Johnston, who is stepping down as principal of Glasgow Caledonian University.

While fears persist that English students will head north to avoid top-ups, which will be introduced in England in 2006, fees are likely to have the reverse effect on the cross-border movement of academics. Many could be lured away from Scotland by the better pay and facilities in England.

Dr Johnston said that he had had to divert funds to retain high-flyers at Glasgow Caledonian.

"The most important thing for the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2006 is for the Scottish Executive to find a way to maintain its current generous plans in relation to teaching infrastructure, so that the quality of experience of students in Scotland remains competitive and that we don't fall behind in pay."

He said: "I'm really quite concerned about that." But he stressed that higher education could not simply depend on the Executive's efforts to match the increased funding of English institutions.

His university has launched an ambitious "2010 vision" to maximise its external funding, including the appointment of "futures professors" in a number of key applied research areas.

Dr Johnston, formerly deputy principal of Sheffield Hallam University, welcomed the policy of the Scottish Executive to support research activity in all higher education institutions. "It's so much better than in England, where there appears to be pressure to push post-92 universities out of research," he said.

"I see higher education as one sector from the point of view of academic staff and their careers. And I think post-92 institutions are vitally important incubators of research staff, for both research-intensive universities and industry and commerce."

Dr Johnston, whose principalship is advertised in this week's Times Higher , believes Glasgow Caledonian could become the "Warwick of the north".

"I think my successor is a lucky person. We are regarded as a very innovative institution, vital to widening participation and social inclusion," he said. "Glasgow Caledonian is doing fantastically well, but think where it could be: it could be the Warwick of the north."

Dr Johnston's successor is set to take over later this year.

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