Scottish independence will threaten research, BIS claims

Scotland risks losing its thriving research base if it becomes independent, analysis by Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has claimed

November 11, 2013

The report Scotland Analysis: Science and Research published on 11 November, suggests that access to any shared infrastructure would need to be examined in detail should Scotland leave the UK

The country is due to vote in a referendum on whether to become an independent state in September 2014.

An independent Scotland could share research arrangements and facilities with the rest of the UK. But the report warns that there is little international precedent to follow in this respect and any agreements would have to be negotiated.

Scotland has five universities in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and international indicators of excellence suggest that the country’s research is on the up, the report says.

For example, the country’s share of the world’s most cited publications has risen to 1.7 per cent from 1.4 per cent over the last 10 years. 

In 2012-13 Scottish institutions secured £257 million worth of grants from the research councils. This equates to about 13 per cent of the funds available to the UK as a whole, despite the fact that Scotland only accounts for 8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 8 per cent of the population, says the report.

The research councils generally do not fund work in other countries. In the event of independence the administration of any new state would have to invest 0.23 per cent of GDP to match the amount of investment provided by the research councils in 2012. Or find funding from other sources, according to the report.

Currently, Scottish universities also pull in significant amounts of research funding from other sources. In 2011, the Association of Medical Charities spent 13 per cent of its research pot in Scotland. The University of Stirling, for example, is home to Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research.

The report says charities and businesses based in the UK may find it more complex to fund research in an independent Scottish state as new administration costs and taxes come into play. Businesses funding research and development currently benefit from tax incentives, for example, which would not be valid if the work took place in Scotland, according to the report.

Researchers working in Scotland may also lose access to major international infrastructure projects, such as the European Centre for Nuclear Research (Cern) and European Southern Observatory, the report says.

Science and universities minister David Willetts said: “Research activity in Scotland and the rest of the UK has flourished because of its close integration. Working together benefits all, allowing money, people and knowledge to flow freely and has been pivotal in securing the UK’s international reputation for excellence.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said the country’s “unrivalled record of success in attracting research funding” would “continue with independence”.

“Higher education research in Scotland is internationally recognised for its quality, diversity and collaborative nature and we have more world-class universities per head of population than any other country,” he said.

“Meanwhile a number of our universities have risen up the international ranking this year – showing the strength of the sector. Our commitment to support our universities and to recognise the full impact of their research is widely acknowledged by the sector.”

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