Scotland’s Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell has urged the UK government to issue guarantees on higher education and Brexit.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the government’s current plans would see EU citizens studying in the UK able to obtain leave to remain for three years – the length of most degree courses in England – however the majority of Scottish university courses last four years, leading to concern over the ability of degree students in Scotland to finish their full course.
Russell said: “Scotland has a world class higher education sector and a longstanding reputation for being amongst the best in the world. But Brexit is already the biggest risk to the sector, threatening our ability to attract and retain EU staff and students. This damaging policy has many consequences for Scottish institutions, putting them at a competitive disadvantage with regards to undergraduate recruitment. It is not clear whether the decision to offer leave for only three years is the result of ignorance about the Scottish system or incompetence, but it is utterly ridiculous that the Home Secretary does not recognise the change required.”
A statement on higher education and Brexit issued by Home Secretary Sajid Javid offered students the option of applying for additional leave to remain under a different route after the initial three years, although the statement referred particularly to extended degree courses such as medicine or law. The Home Secretary did not acknowledge the four-year length of most degrees offered by Scottish universities.
Russell added: “The uncertainty of Brexit – and the end of freedom of movement – continue to be the biggest threat to our university sector. This is not just an issue for big universities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, but for all our universities. For example, the University of the Highlands and Islands [has] reported that the Scottish Association for Marine Science currently have 114 undergraduate students of whom 27 are from the EU and have 15 EU postgraduate research students from countries such as Italy, Germany and Poland. The UK Government is simply ignoring the fact that the majority of undergraduate courses in Scotland last four years, putting Scottish universities at a serious disadvantage when competing to attract EU nationals to study. Action from the UK Government is needed urgently especially when the risk of a no-deal Brexit is rapidly increasing.”