A group of 65 academics based at Scottish universities have written an open letter expressing concern about the future of clinical and biomedical research if Scotland were to vote for independence.
The letter says Scotland’s 100-year-old “outstanding international reputation in the clinical and biomedical sciences” will “eroded and lost over time” if the country’s researchers were unable to access UK-wide funding.
The academics are led by Margaret Frame, science director at Cancer Research UK’s Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre and director of research at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, Graeme Milligan, dean of research at the University of Glasgow’s College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, and James Naismith, director of the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex at the University of St Andrews.
They note that, in 2012-13, Scottish institutions won 13.1 per cent of UK research council funding despite Scotland’s only having 8.4 per cent of the UK population.
“It is highly unlikely that an independent Scotland would be able to afford to deliver equivalent amounts of funding either through a future Scottish Research Council or through some form of subscription arrangement with the UK Research Councils. Moreover there is no guarantee that the major biomedical charities such as the Wellcome Trust would continue funding research on the current basis in what would be a foreign country,” they say.
They add that independence would “disrupt the integrated research network which has provided an outstanding research environment for the whole of the UK”, including large national facilities such as the Diamond Light Source.
In July, new minister for universities, science and cities Greg Clark warned that a vote for independence on September 18 would be “a vote to leave the UK’s institutions, such as the research councils”.
The skills available to Scottish institutions could also be hit by a “reduced opportunity to move smoothly between UK centres of excellence”, the academics say.
“We believe that remaining within the UK offers overwhelming advantages for biomedical research and development, including for commercialisation and wealth generation from the vital biomedical sector,” they say.
In July the presidents of the Royal Society, British Academy and Academy of Medical Sciences warned that Scottish independence would damage research across the UK, and particularly in Scotland. In the same month losing access to the research councils was revealed as the issue that most worries Scotland’s university principals about independence.