Released today, Scotland’s Future: your guide to an independent Scotland also argues that it would still be possible to charge tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK under EU law.
The proposal on research councils is likely to be controversial because Scottish universities are widely considered to win a disproportionate amount of funding under the present arrangements.
Scotland’s population constituted 8.4 per cent of the UK total in 2010, Office for National Statistics data show, but its universities won 14.7 per cent of research council money in 2009-10, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Critics have suggested that continuing the current research council arrangement would constitute a “subsidy” to an independent Scotland, making the remainder of the UK unlikely to accept the plan.
The report says it is “clearly in the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK to maintain a common research area including shared research councils, access to facilities and peer review”.
The Scottish government would seek to continue this shared research area, it says.
“With independence, we would intend to negotiate with the Westminster Government a fair funding formula for Scotland’s contribution based on population share,” it says.
This formula would take “reasonable account of the fact that the amount of research funding received by Scottish institutions from the Research Councils may reflect higher or lower levels of funding”, it continues.
Another conundrum facing an independent Scotland is how to stop students from the rest of the UK going to its universities for free.
Currently, because Scottish domiciled students are not charged any tuition fees, EU students have to be treated the same, and so can also attend for free.
Only because EU law allows different policies to apply within member countries are Scottish universities permitted to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students up to £9,000 a year.
But in the event of independence, and assuming Scotland and the remainder of the UK continued to be EU members, Scotland could be subject to a legal challenge if it charged students from south of the border.
In response to this question, the report says: “We believe that the unique and unprecedented position of a post-independent Scotland will enable us to continue our current policy in a way which is consistent with the principles of free movement across the EU as a whole and which is compatible with EU requirements.”
Each EU member state is “free to adopt its own domestic policies, consistent with the objectives of the EU”, it adds.
Non-UK EU students will continue to pay the same as Scottish students, it says.
The document also suggests that Scotland could use control over immigration policy to make it easier for international students to study at Scottish universities.
It would reintroduce the post-study work visa, scrapped in 2012 by the coalition, which guarantees the right of international students to work for two years after their graduation.
Universities will also be free to continue to use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, it says.