Meeting date: Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 07 November 2018
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Emergency Workers
- Portfolio Question Time
- Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Emergency Workers
Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14638, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on safeguarding Scotland’s international research collaborations and reputation for scientific excellence from the threat of Brexit. That is a mouthful.
I call the minister, who has 13 minutes or thereabouts—we have a little time in hand for interventions and so on.14:40
Yesterday, I visited Queen Margaret University, where I was given a tour by the wonderful principal, Petra Wend. She has been at the helm there for nine years and she recently announced that she will stand down next summer, so I pay tribute to her for the enormous contribution that she has made and continues to make to higher education in Scotland.
Petra Wend is German. During my tour, I was struck by Queen Margaret University’s international character. In a laboratory, I met two academics who were there to show me around. The senior research fellow was from the Netherlands and the PhD student was Greek. Later, I had a presentation from the head of student services, who is Bulgarian. At Queen Margaret, 15 per cent of the students and about 9 per cent of the staff are European Union nationals.
Across Scotland’s universities, colleges and research institutions, students and staff from the EU make an enormous contribution to Scotland and our global reputation for excellence. Many institutions benefit greatly from EU membership—for example, 19 per cent of students at the University of Aberdeen alone are EU nationals.
However, as a result of Brexit, I am hearing similar messages everywhere I go on my various visits. I hear about universities hiring immigration lawyers, about staff in tears and about staff and students feeling uncertain, insecure and less welcome. I hear about talented and valued staff contemplating leaving Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, I have heard everywhere about the short-term and long-term threat that Brexit poses to Scotland’s research base, to funding, to our international standing and influence and to our reputation for science, research and innovation, and educational excellence, which one principal rightly described to me as “beyond world class”. All that damage is self-inflicted. It is no wonder that the principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, said that a hard Brexit would
“represent the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory”.
Scotland’s story, and especially that of our universities, has been shaped by our close relationship with Europe. Today, our research institutions increasingly work together to increase their impact, but we have always recognised that co-operation within Scotland or the UK alone is never enough for real success. World-leading success comes from reaching out beyond our borders across the globe—and, of course, across Europe—to add value to research endeavours in Scotland.
Scotland builds on a great history that goes back centuries to our early links to Europe. Our first universities were set up in the 15th century, when St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen were all founded through papal bulls, which gave them the seal of approval to award degrees. Until then, Scottish students had studied in continental Europe because of the wars of independence with England.
Europe influenced Scotland, and Scotland influenced Europe and the world. The Scottish enlightenment figures David Hume, Adam Smith and James Hutton changed our way of thinking about the world and our economy. The first industrial revolution would have been unthinkable without James Watt’s steam engine, which brought science and invention together with industry and engineering.
Scientists and researchers in Scotland continue to shape society; they are leading on aspects of the fourth industrial revolution, which is focused on linking our cyber and physical worlds. That is not the only area of impact. Our excellent research base, which comprises universities, research institutes and public research bodies as well as third and private sector activity, is having a positive impact on many aspects of Scottish society. To give just a few examples, that ranges from improved health and social care—that is in the news today—to better access to digital communications, cleaner energy and transport, and improved safety and security.
We all know that science and research are extremely important activities in Scotland. The total investment in research and development in Scotland is £2.3 billion a year. More and more expert voices have been speaking out about the damage that Brexit is causing to that investment, because international collaboration is at the heart of the success of science and research in this country.
The member will be aware of the tremendous record of Scottish scientists, and that the Bank of England is going to honour a scientist on the new £50 note. Will the minister support my campaign to have Professor John Macleod from Aberdeen, who discovered insulin, appear on the new £50 note?
Of course—Professor Macleod would be an excellent candidate. Indeed, there are many candidates from Scotland who have given us an enormously successful track record in science and innovation down the centuries and who have made a difference to ordinary people’s lives, not just in this country but across the world.
Scots-born Nobel laureate Sir Fraser Stoddart—to name another eminent scientist—said:
“What’s most important is to be able to have at least 15 different nationalities in a large research group—that’s the way we do science, we do it at a global level.”
Scotland is truly a global leader in science. We are an outward-looking country with valuable international collaborations that support high-quality research. The Scottish Government alone provides £500 million annually for science and research at Scotland’s universities and at our research institutes and public bodies, including NHS Scotland.
In 2016, Scotland’s higher education research and development spend as a percentage of gross domestic product was ranked top in all parts of the UK and fifth highest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. That is a phenomenal track record, which has led to results on research excellence. Three Scottish universities are in the Times Higher Education global top 200 for research volume, income and reputation, and four are in the global top 200 for research influence as measured by publication citations.
All of that underpins Scotland’s economy and Scottish jobs. The latest figures show that, in 2016, private investment in research in Scotland surpassed the £1 billion mark for the first time. Of new UK spin-outs, 23 per cent are from Scottish universities. Again, that is more than in any other part of the UK.
Just last month, Nova Innovation was awarded the 2018 Enterprise Europe Network award for its work on renewable energy as part of a pan-European project. It is therefore ironic that our full participation in the European programme that supported that project, horizon 2020, is now being threatened because of Brexit. Scotland has thus far secured almost €558 million from the horizon 2020 programme alone.
Our universities are well connected globally. Scottish universities have a higher percentage of EU students than those in other parts of the UK and more than a quarter of all full-time university research staff are from EU countries. We punch way above our weight. It is therefore no wonder that the 2019 Times Higher Education world university rankings show that nine of Scotland’s universities are in the global top 200 for international outlook.
However, I do not want just to highlight our truly outstanding international research community in Scotland and its global connections; I want us to safeguard all of that for the future as well. Professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow recently gave the clearest of warnings about the impact of Brexit on science and research in this country, saying:
“If I can’t run a world-leading team of researchers here I’m not going to let the skills, knowledge and momentum we’ve built die because of a hard Brexit. Many of us will be forced to move our research abroad.”
I am shocked and dismayed, as I am sure many others are, at the casual attitude that the UK Government has been showing towards the threat that Brexit poses to Scotland’s global reputation for world-leading research; to the freedom of movement of both Scottish and EU researchers; and to Scotland’s ability to continue to compete and participate in key European research programmes. Years of building trust through co-operation and partnership are now being sacrificed thanks to infighting in the Conservative Party at Westminster.
The impact of that is starting to be felt. According to data in the science journal Nature, UK participation as a lead co-ordinator in EU multilateral projects through horizon 2020 has reduced significantly since 2016. There are many other impacts, too. The third sector invests significant amounts of money in Scottish research. One of the key research funding charities, the Wellcome Trust, has raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on its future potential investments. Its director, Jeremy Farrar, stated:
“We have invested in the UK for more than 80 years. It has provided an environment in which science and innovation can thrive, but if the conditions and the culture here are damaged, that will affect our support. It is not unconditional.”
If such damage can be done to our reputation and status even before Brexit, it is easy to see why so many are anxious about the situation after 29 March next year. The Scottish Government’s paper, “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Science and Research”, which was published earlier this week, quotes the recent letter of 29 Nobel prize winners to the Prime Minister. It says:
“science needs to flourish and that requires the flow of people and ideas across borders”.
The UK Government’s hostile rhetoric and attitude are not helping to make our EU friends in this country feel welcome or at home. Polling by the trade union Prospect showed that nearly 70 per cent of EU scientists in the UK are thinking of leaving after Brexit.
In Scotland, a country that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, we should be resolutely focused on attracting the best minds in Europe to work and study here to help us to build a successful and prosperous nation. Instead, thanks to the actions of others, we face the prospect of a Brexit brain drain. We need to stand together and prevent that from happening.
Like others, I have been actively encouraging the EU nationals whom I meet to continue to study and work at universities and other research organisations in Scotland. Amid the chaos of Brexit, it is important that we send out a message that Scotland is open for business and that we welcome with open arms people from EU countries to our universities and research institutions.
Does the minister think that his speech says that we are open for business or that we are focused entirely on the negatives?
I am saying that Scotland is open for business. I only wish that the Conservatives would say that, too.
I support the work that our universities and colleges are doing to reassure and support EU staff and their families as far as possible.
In addition to the effect on people who are already here, the Home Office’s current approach to visiting scientists and researchers has already been damaging to our reputation and to our ability to welcome experts from around the world. Numerous esteemed scientists who were due to attend and speak at the recent world congress of psychiatric genetics, which was held in Glasgow, were denied entry to Scotland due to visa delays and refusals. That is unacceptable, and the situation threatens to get worse if researchers from Europe are going to be treated by the UK Government with the same relentless hostility.
It has become increasingly clear that the UK Government will offer, at best, a hugely damaging blindfold Brexit that would still leave us guessing about the long-term future of our valuable European research collaborations, which the UK Government has made very little progress on securing.
International collaboration is critical to maintaining and strengthening Scotland’s excellence in research as well as to meeting our economic policy goals and improving public services in this country. We should not allow Brexit and the hostile immigration policies of the UK Government to constrain Scotland’s scientific and economic progress. We should ensure that Scotland continues to be an outward-looking, open and welcoming country.
Compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland employs proportionally more EU academic staff in our universities and institutions; we have proportionally more EU students; we have proportionally more outgoing domestic students participating in Erasmus+; we punch way above our weight in securing EU research funding; and we have a higher rate of research staff from the EU working in Scottish institutions.
Scotland voted to remain in the EU but is facing Brexit with our further and higher education and research sectors having the most to lose. Our voice therefore deserves to be heard and heeded. Maintaining single market membership with freedom of movement, including for students, staff and researchers, is more important to Scotland than it is to the UK as a whole. Maintaining participation in EU research programmes is more important to Scotland than it is to the UK as a whole. We must do all that we can to protect this vital national sector from Brexit and the reckless actions of the UK Tory Government. I commend the motion to Parliament.
That the Parliament notes with concern the growing number of voices within Scotland’s research and science communities warning of the substantial threat that Brexit poses to Scotland’s position as a leading nation in international science and research; understands the significant economic, social and cultural contributions that universities and other research institutions and their international collaborators bring to Scotland; believes that the UK Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, including its commitment to ending freedom of movement, is undermining Scotland’s worldwide reputation and threatening the mobility of students and researchers and full participation in European research programmes, and commits to exploring options to safeguard Scotland’s international research collaborations and reputation for scientific excellence globally.14:54
I begin by focusing on the positives. It is easy in the current political climate to jump straight to the negatives and to challenge and dispute what other people have said. However, sometimes it is also important to stop, take stock of the positives and realise that, despite the differences of opinion that exist, there is a great deal on which we can agree.
The chamber needs no reminding of the exceptional work that is done by our universities, research institutes and research departments. However, it remains vital that we do everything that we can to tell that incredible story both to a domestic audience and around the world. Indeed, the task of articulating and celebrating the outstanding economic and cultural contribution that those skilled and dedicated scientists, academics and researchers make to our nation will be, arguably, even more important post-Brexit.
As a leave voter, I remain absolutely sure that practically no one voted to diminish the role of universities or our international standards for excellence in research, or to reduce or decrease the strong international links that we enjoy with Europe and the rest of the world when it comes to being at the forefront of scientific advances.
Will the member taken intervention?
Not right now, thank you.
Indeed, I believe that, whatever our respective stances on Brexit, the vast majority of Scots want to see our university, research and scientific sectors survive, grow and thrive both in a European sense and in a truly global sense—in a world in which creating new connections and working together to solve the major challenges that we face, whether in relation to good healthcare or climate change, are vital not just to Scotland but to the whole of humanity.
I wonder whether Mr Mundell can answer this question for me: does he believe that those laudable objectives, which I endorse, will be enhanced or diminished by the UK Government’s opposition to freedom of movement for EU citizens?
Challenges lie ahead—I will not stand here and deny that. The fundamental climate in which our country operates internationally will change. However, we have to remember that, at the end of the day, that is what the majority of British people voted for. The UK Government’s job is to balance out the different priorities.
I stress to the Scottish Government that the UK Government is working very hard to ensure the continued settled status of EU nationals—I note that, so far, any mention of that has been completely absent from today’s debate. Certainly, those on the Conservative benches want to send out a very strong message that all EU nationals are welcome in Scotland and that we very much value the contribution that they make not just to the education sector but across our society.
Will the member take an invention?
I have already taken an intervention; I want to make a little progress.
It is in that positive spirit that I lodged today’s Scottish Conservative amendment to the Government’s motion.
It is important to highlight that the Scottish further education sector and, indeed, many of our research institutions, do not exist in isolation. That is true in a UK sense, in a European sense and in a global sense. Again, it is important to get the balance right. My reading of the Government’s motion is that it lacks balance and nuance. Where possible, we have sought to strip some of the politics out of it. Although the concerns that many in the sector have outlined should give members cause to reflect, and they deserve careful consideration in the debate, it serves no one’s purpose to politicise the sector or those concerns, or in any way suggest that the sector overall is at risk.
I remain confident, for the reasons that are outlined in our amendment, that the UK Government is doing everything that it can to achieve an orderly and negotiated Brexit—a Brexit that will allow many of those relationships to continue and flourish, while at the same time enabling new partnerships and relationships to grow.
I particularly welcome the chancellor’s commitment to keep funding at existing levels up to 2020. I also welcome the new Government initiatives that have been announced since the British public voted to leave the EU, which some of my colleagues will talk more about. I believe that those initiatives will help to shore up the university sector and support new and innovative research across Scotland and the United Kingdom.
I am pleased that the UK will continue participating in the horizon programme. I am also pleased that the intention of the UK and the EU is that UK researchers and businesses will remain eligible to participate in horizon 2020 and that the position will remain unchanged for the duration of the programme. That has already been agreed as part of the financial settlement that was signed off by UK, EU and Commission negotiators in a draft withdrawal agreement and welcomed by the other 27 EU countries at the March European Council.
Moreover, the next horizon scheme could include the UK—that would be desirable—with the new funding scheme due to last from 2021 to 2027. As the EU’s research commissioner has indicated, the legal text supporting the programme
“is done in a way so that we can include UK in the future as a third country. The doors are open for discussion.”
I believe that that flexibility is to be welcomed, which is why we are pleased to support Labour’s amendment today. Scottish Conservatives will do all that we can to secure the UK’s positive future involvement in the horizon 2020 programme, just as we have urged the UK Government
“to ensure that the visa system is structured to attract students and staff of the highest calibre to work in UK universities and research centres.”
We believe that there is no impediment to that in post-Brexit Britain and will continue to strongly make that case, as outlined in our amendment.
Before concluding, I say to the Liberal Democrats that we will not be able to support their amendment at decision time. Although I commend them on their sometimes somewhat obsessive wish to hold another referendum, we believe that the matter has already been settled and that the best Brexit deal will be secured by ensuring co-operation across all the parties, with everyone doing what they can to support the Prime Minister as she seeks to build a consensus.
Mr Mundell sets out an argument for continuing to make the case for an appropriate approach to immigration—I think that those were the words that he used. However, this Parliament unanimously agreed to a proposition that we should reintroduce the fresh talent initiative—the post-study work visa initiative. We agreed that unanimously across the chamber but the UK Government said no. What are we supposed to do when the UK Government is oblivious to unanimity in this institution on an idea that we all think would be a sensible one? Having had that experience, how can we have confidence in Mr Mundell’s argument that, somehow, a pragmatic approach to immigration will be taken when all the evidence flies in the face of that?
I go back to what I said at the start of my speech. Clearly, I adopt a much more positive approach. We have to work towards the system that we want to see. We must take time to reflect on all the comments that have come in on the immigration system from the Confederation of British Industry and NFU Scotland because the issues do not exist in isolation.
I see that the cabinet secretary looks confused. My point is that immigration in the university sector is not an issue that exists in isolation and must be considered as part of a balanced package of measures that delivers not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK. Rather than seek to make political hay out of slow progress—at times, frustratingly slow progress—it would be better if the cabinet secretary recognised that members on the Conservative benches are working hard to achieve the same goal.
That takes me nicely to my concluding remarks. At this time of national importance, I simply ask Scottish National Party members to consider their motivations and to ask themselves whether debates on important issues such as this one are brought to the Parliament to highlight those issues or to further the SNP’s own interests. Given the challenges that lie ahead and the significance of our international research collaborations and our reputation for scientific excellence, surely the national interest must come first. If that is the case, this is the time to work together, putting politics aside, and to back the Prime Minister in securing the certainty that a deal with the EU would offer.
I move amendment S5M-14638.1, to leave out from “notes with concern” to “European research programmes” and insert:
“recognises the very significant economic, social and cultural value of research co-operation across the UK and with the international community, and the benefits of knowledge exchange; welcomes the assurance of UK Government research funding up to 2020; supports the UK Government’s plans to include science and innovation among future co-operative accords with the EU; urges the UK Government to ensure that the visa system is structured to attract students and staff of the highest calibre to work in UK universities and research centres”.15:03
I think that I am correct in saying that this is Mr Lochhead’s first debate in his new role as Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, so let me welcome him to his place.
I am absolutely delighted that Mr Lochhead chose to start his tenure with a paean to my local university, Queen Margaret University, in East Lothian. He pointed out that for some 10 years the university has been led by its principal, Petra Wend, who is from Germany, and that the university’s international connections and collaborations spread right through its operations, which include ground-breaking research in food science and healthcare technology, to mention just a couple of areas. I am delighted by Mr Lochhead’s debut in his new role.
I welcome the opportunity to debate these issues, because they are important to Scotland. When it comes to debates on science, we can usually reach for a quote from Albert Einstein, and an apposite quote for today is this:
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
I tend to think that if Einstein were to come back he would probably still be unsure about the structure of the universe, even with all the work that has gone on since he carried out his own work, but I fear that the whole sorry saga of Brexit would convince him that he had been right all along about human stupidity, because that process has been chaotic and catastrophic.
There is no doubt that Scotland’s higher education sector is world leading. Many institutions are in the top rankings for teaching quality, and we excel even further in the research that we produce. The minister has already pointed out that, with regard to the world university rankings, three Scottish universities are in the global top 200 for volume, income and reputation associated with research, and four for the influence of that research. We also have among the most productive research institutions. Indeed, nine of them are among the best in the whole world for their international outlook in relation to staff, students and research.
That was brought home to me most directly a few years ago when I visited the large hadron collider at CERN as part of a delegation from the cross-party group on science and technology. I was astonished at the number of the young scientists working on that international collaboration who were from Scottish universities, particularly Glasgow, Strathclyde and Edinburgh, or who were Scots studying at other universities but working at CERN. They were playing a significant leading role in that quite remarkable piece of cutting-edge technology.
That visit also brought home another link. We were lucky enough to be visiting the site of the experiment that demonstrated the existence of the Higgs boson, and perhaps the most complex and elaborate piece of scientific kit in the world was being used to prove something that Professor Higgs had postulated using no more than his fountain pen while sitting in the University of Edinburgh some 50 years before. Science is a global and international operation and, unfortunately, the current mess and uncertainty of Brexit can only weaken Scotland’s strong position in that respect.
Our research excellence is very much influenced by those European links, with £1 in every £10 of Scottish universities’ research income—or around £105 million every year—coming from the EU. Of course, that relates only to universities; it does not include the European research funding that goes elsewhere. With regard to horizon 2020, which, as has already been mentioned, is the biggest EU research and innovation programme that there has ever been, Scotland has again been in the lead, with 13 per cent of UK funding for that programme coming to Scottish institutions. It is important that we continue to benefit from future horizon programmes, hence the amendment that we have lodged.
Of course, it goes without saying that research is only as good as those who conduct it, and EU citizens make a vast contribution to our research sector, comprising more than 12 per cent of our university staff and 16 per cent of our postgraduate population. In fact, 60 per cent of the UK’s internationally co-authored research papers are put together with EU partners.
Our scientific excellence relates not only to life sciences and science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the STEM subjects—because Scotland and the wider UK are also leaders in social and humanities research. Significant amounts of research funding in those disciplines are also linked to EU collaboration. Indeed, 33 per cent of all European Research Council funding for social science research comes to the UK. For such strong bonds to continue, it is vital that our academic researchers can still travel to European countries with ease, and vice versa.
It is now two years since the referendum took place. I heard what Mr Mundell said, but the trouble is that our higher education, scientific and research communities still have no idea what the consequences of the result will be and no knowledge of the plans that they will have to work with in order to mitigate the impact.
Will the member take an intervention?
I think that it is too late.
The truth is that Brexit is already damaging science and research. A recent Nature magazine editorial says:
“Regardless of whether or not a deal is done, many scientists are already seeing and feeling the impact of Brexit ... Researchers are less likely to get collaborators on projects, because academics in Europe view them as a risky bet ... Some are finding it harder to fill key positions. Others feel unable to apply for EU funding”.
The truth is that the impact is already here.
To protect science, research and the other sectors that we are debating, at the very least we must work towards a deal that ensures that we retain as close a relationship as possible with the European Union.
I move amendment S5M-14638.3, to insert at end:
“, including a focus from both the Scottish and UK governments on promoting the importance of Horizon Europe developing in a way that allows the UK to be involved.”15:11
I am sure that Mr Gray would recognise that, when the Presiding Officer dropped her bottle of water when he was speaking, she was merely testing one of Einstein’s theories rather than trying to interrupt his remarks.
I heard Oliver Mundell accusing some of us of being “obsessive”. When I watch Jacob Rees-Mogg and one or two others on the television, I hear a whole new definition of obsession, which I invite Mr Mundell to consider carefully.
I, too, welcome Richard Lochhead to his place. I thought that he might have got fisheries research in. He spent eight years talking about that in the Parliament. I suppose that the point that he would have made—I will help him to make it—would have been that many people from every part of Europe, whom I can remember, worked at the marine laboratory in Torry doing fisheries research. That still applies now, and that is still certainly the case in the marine centre in Scalloway in Shetland.
When any country faces the uncertainties of the modern world, it makes sense to play to its strengths. Scotland’s higher education institutions, the research that they do and the people whom they employ are a strength that has attracted academics from across the globe to the UK and Scotland. That strength has been a welcome mat for international students and it demonstrates that we are a connected part of the European universities and research infrastructure. We are simply part of that European family.
However, we are now in danger of losing that strength. That is why 35 Nobel laureates recently wrote to the Prime Minister to call for a deal on science and innovation that allowed the “closest possible cooperation” between the UK and the EU. That is a group of outstanding people. It includes the president of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, and Dr Richard Henderson, who won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2017 and who was born in Edinburgh and studied at the University of Edinburgh. That strength is why 23 senior figures from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Aberdeen and the University of St Andrews signed an open letter that warned of the consequences of Brexit and called for a people’s vote, and it explains why the Francis Crick Institute in London, which is the biggest biomedical research laboratory in Europe, surveyed more than 1,000 staff in October and found that 97 per cent thought that a hard Brexit would be bad for UK science.
Oliver Mundell said that people who talked about the matter in a negative way and were warning, as Tavish Scott is doing now, were politicking. Would Tavish Scott say that the people from the Francis Crick Institute are politicking?
It is important to recognise that 1,000 of the staff at the Francis Crick Institute were surveyed. That is the reason why I want to talk about UK science. Far from politicking, they are concerned about their jobs and their futures, and about the very essence of science and why we do it. Gillian Martin has drawn a fair implication about their motive in making the arguments.
Just 3 per cent think that the scientific community is being listened to and represented in discussions. The institute’s director, Paul Nurse, said:
“A hard Brexit could cripple UK science and the government needs to sit up and listen.”
Far from any member in the chamber being negative, we are simply pointing out and illustrating the depth of the concern that exists across the science community here in Scotland and right across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
How is it right and in the country’s interests to turn our back on international people who have worked and lived here and furthered our knowledge and our learning; to turn our back on international students by taking a scandalous approach to immigration that basically says, “You’re not welcome here”; to turn our back on the flowering of ideas that comes from international collaboration and exchange; and therefore to damage the international reach and attractiveness of a major Scottish success story—our strength in our universities and our world-leading research?
The Royal Society of Edinburgh sets that out with commendable accuracy in its briefing for today’s debate. It says that 18 per cent of academic staff in Scotland are EU nationals and that 13 per cent come from further afield, which are higher proportions than in any other part of the UK. Some 25 per cent of staff in Scotland who only carry out research are EU nationals. In engineering and technology, that rises to nearly half of all the academics who are employed here. How do those who wish to take us out of the European Union propose to attract such talented Europeans to work in Scotland in the future? As we have all been told when we go to the universities or institutions in our own parts of Scotland, they might simply choose to work elsewhere.
Many Scottish institutions collaborate with European partners, although that has gone backwards since 2016. Now it will get worse. The RSE makes the crucial point that, notwithstanding UK Government reassurances that funding for UK research will not suffer as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, that cannot compensate for the potential loss of the added value that is gained from full UK participation in EU programmes. That strikes me as being the essence of the argument and it illustrates the dangers and what we are about to lose.
Horizon 2020 demonstrates that collaboration, as Iain Gray and others have mentioned, but few in academia, never mind in politics, believe that a Brexiteer-led UK Government will pay one penny more into the programme after 2020 than is being put into the current programme. I ask members to imagine trying to convince Prime Minister Dominic Raab to write a cheque to Brussels for anything, never mind for science in a programme that would support universities in the United Kingdom, yet the programme has brought all those advantages to Scotland and the UK.
As well as Scotland’s universities, the James Hutton Institute and Scotland’s Rural College will be directly affected by the lack of access to EU funds. Those land-based bodies have been ideally placed to benefit from collaborative funding projects. Compared with that of the rest of the UK, Scotland’s land-based research is simply more joined up from producer to researcher, which makes Scotland internationally useful for collaboration and partnerships in the area. The UK research council does not do that and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has no funds in the area, so what chance is there of that essential work being replicated?
There appears to be no obvious upside to dragging the UK’s and Scotland’s higher education sector out of the EU. That is why so many in the sector want a right to vote on whatever cobbled-up negotiation appears out of London and Brussels. This Parliament should speak for our universities and research sector and all the people who work in it, and they should be given a right to a vote on their future.
I move amendment S5M-14638.2, to insert at end:
“, in addition to providing unequivocal support for a public vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal.”15:18
Like colleagues, I welcome the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science to his post.
It is now almost 20 months since article 50 was triggered and the UK Government has still failed to negotiate what its former Brexit secretary thought would be the easiest deal in history. It is clear that the Prime Minister is paralysed by the in-fighting in her party and is too scared to take on the hard-right ideologues on her benches and in her Cabinet. One of the many areas of our society that are already suffering the consequences of this bizarre mix of incompetence and malice is our university sector and the wider research and education sectors here in Scotland.
We know that membership of the EU brings benefits such as funding and support for international research collaborations, the Erasmus+ programme and the immense boost that the right to European freedom of movement gives to both individuals and the institutions that they work for or with. We cannot pick and choose our favourite bits of the EU and hope to retain their full benefits without being a member. That is not how the EU works, but that seems to have passed the UK Government by. We saw that when Switzerland sought to restrict freedom of movement in 2014 and its participation in EU research programmes was immediately restricted.
Funding can be replaced by the Government, although there is little trust in the UK Government’s commitment to that, but the reputation and prestige that come with hosting huge EU-funded multinational research projects cannot be so easily replaced.
Switzerland never even implemented its restrictions on freedom of movement. It opted instead to negotiate a new agreement with the EU in return for restoring access to research programmes. Nonetheless, the vice-president for research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has said that it may take Swiss research institutes at least half a decade to recover the standing that they lost and to re-establish themselves globally. That was because of a two-year restriction, resulting from a decision that was not implemented. The UK faces full, complete, absolute and permanent—or at least long-term—removal from European freedom of movement. How can those parties—and it is more than just the Tories—that are committed to ending freedom of movement reconcile that commitment with their intention to retain access to EU research programmes?
Horizon 2020 funding is currently worth more than €200 million to Scottish research institutes. Research projects are also funded through European structural funds, of which we have received almost €1 billion in this funding cycle. EU citizens make up more than one in five of the research staff at our universities, and more than 20,000 students from the rest of the EU currently study in Scotland. I appreciate that the UK Government, after two years of unnecessary delay, has finally stated that EU citizens’ rights to stay in the UK will be secure, even if there is no deal. That provides some relief to EU citizens who are here, but only to some. It does not resolve the understandable level of distrust towards the Home Office, given its hostile environment policies and its typically staggering levels of incompetence.
Does Mr Greer accept that there is a future threat from all of that? The Finance and Constitution Committee pointed out in its report today that population growth in Scotland is a central aspect of how we meet our economic challenges. The hostility towards free movement of individuals—as a consequence of the process that we are currently going through—will be a significant obstacle to population growth.
I am grateful to the Deputy First Minister for making that relevant point. I am sure that, like his colleagues, he heard the evidence that the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee took last year. The chair of the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee said that if a sector of our economy was not of high priority, like the financial sector in the City of London, it might have to restrict itself after Brexit. The committee repeatedly cited areas of Scotland’s economy that are not only essential to our wellbeing as a nation but very much dependent on freedom of movement and our ability to attract people. Those areas were, in essence, dismissed as being acceptable casualties of the Brexit process.
Edinburgh university’s pilot scheme to register, in advance of Brexit, European citizens who are living here opens this month. A number of European citizens who work at Edinburgh university have told me that they do not intend to take part and that they do not know of any other EU nationals who are members of staff who intend to take part. The reason for that is complete mistrust of the Home Office. They appreciate their university’s support but they fear that their documents will be lost or that they will be wrongly ordered to leave the country, as has already happened to others. They know the Home Office’s reputation—through the racist deportation of citizens from the Windrush generation and the incompetence that has already seen some EU citizens being wrongly told to leave—and they rightly ask why they should be guinea pigs for the department’s latest project.
I will take a moment to highlight some of the brilliant research and training benefits that we get through EU membership, which directly impact on communities in the west of Scotland. The University of the West of Scotland has certainly benefited from such opportunities. Working with Queen’s University Belfast and Dundalk Institute of Technology in the Republic of Ireland, it has secured €7.7 million to research chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The funding has been used to create the border and regions airways training hub, which has the appropriate acronym of BREATH. It employs about 30 research and doctoral students in high-level advanced medical research jobs. Earlier this year, BREATH won a Northern Ireland healthcare award for its research on lung disease. The award-winning research project brings immense benefits to the west of Scotland, north and south Ireland and anybody around the world who is affected by COPD.
The BREATH project that is jointly hosted by UWS is exactly the kind of cross-border advanced medical research that EU funding makes possible. Although I am grateful that the UK Government has guaranteed the current funding cycle—the BREATH project is not under immediate threat—that will last only for the next 18 months. Where will the next advanced medical research project come from? Will institutions be able to collaborate across borders and attract the most talented researchers to work on projects?
EU funding and programmes are not just for people with PhDs doing advanced medical research. West College Scotland benefits immensely from Erasmus+, which the Parliament recently debated after a committee inquiry. The college participates in the enhancing employability and skills through mobilities programme, partnered with the Aarhus business network in Denmark and the Vamia vocational institute in Finland. The college students get more opportunities to develop their skills abroad and benefit from experiences outside Scotland. Just this summer, students from the professional cookery course had placements in Aarhus, so next time members are in Paisley or Greenock and they experience Scandinavian cuisine—which I am sure is a regular occurrence for members across the chamber—they will know where those skills come from and that they are benefiting from an EU programme such as Erasmus+.
The scale and depth of opportunities that are available to our universities, colleges and other institutions through our research, collaboration, funding, exchanges and that fundamental right to freedom of movement is hard to overstate. It is immensely frustrating to see that it is at risk. We are fast running out of time, but there is a window in which we can avoid this nonsense and reverse the damage that is already done. I hope that we can seize that opportunity.
We move on to the open debate with speeches of six minutes, please.15:25
It is difficult to quantify exactly the impact of Brexit on scientific research in Scotland for a number of reasons. First, reports tend to concentrate on UK data, although we know that Scottish universities punch well above their weight, given our nation’s size and population, in succeeding in garnering EU funding from horizon 2020, and they have been significant partners in EU collaborative research programmes, particularly in life sciences. Also, we still do not know what kind of Brexit we are looking at, so we cannot quantify the effects of whatever migration and visa systems will be in place or what our customs arrangements will be.
Until we have answers to all those questions, the level of damage to Scottish scientific research is difficult to quantify, and being unrelentingly, blindly positive about things is quite offensive to academics who have warned of that damage, such as those whom Tavish Scott spoke about.
Let us look at what we do know: that €2 billion of the €4.8 billion that the United Kingdom has won from horizon 2020 since 2014 has gone to science; and that Scottish organisations have secured about €530 million of the funding from horizon 2020, of which three quarters has gone to our universities. Let me take one area of vital research. I went on to the Scottish EU funding portal and put in a search for “low carbon” to see what would come up. From that one narrow search, I found that 157 current projects are funded by the EU. Every member here will know that Scotland is committed to being a leader in reducing the causes of climate change. We have to decarbonise and be at the forefront of renewable energy and agricultural and transport innovation if we are going to achieve that and have an economy that thrives as a result of the innovation that is based here.
EU funding and collaboration are the bedrock of that innovation. Because of the lack of a deal with the EU, we do not know if we can expect to be a non-EU partner in framework 9, which is the successor to horizon 2020. That door is open to us, in the same way as it is open to Norway, Iceland and others that are not in the EU, if the UK Government negotiates access to it. I say to Mr Mundell that that is in the national interest, yet I have not heard anything from the Conservative side of the chamber about the UK looking at anything past 2020.
I thank Gillian Martin for that comment, but she might want to reflect on the fact that those on the Conservative side of the chamber are looking way beyond 2020. We are trying to secure a comprehensive deal with the EU to make sure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit. We see that as the priority, because that certainty will help our institutions here in Scotland.
I was happy to take the intervention, even though Mr Mundell never took any of mine. He may say that, but I cannot see many of the people from the scientific and research fraternity who are watching this debate having any confidence that any deal will do anything for them. I have just spoken about a way in which we can give them confidence, and if that deal is on the table—if that is what Mr Mundell is saying—that is fair enough, but I do not think that that is what he is saying. “We are trying” is just not good enough. The Conservatives should get on with it.
We also know that research collaborations between EU partners have significantly more impact than standalone domestic ones. The latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization data show that 62 per cent of the UK’s research outputs are now international collaborations; the United States are on 39 per cent. As Ross Greer said, if someone is in collaboration with lots of other EU partners, they have a window into internationalisation, which has put us ahead of the US for science productivity. That is significant. Collaborations between universities often lead to opportunities for business collaborations across EU countries—that cannot be ignored. There is a big knock-on effect from universities and research partners working together, and it affects other sectors.
We also know that being in the EU not just has afforded the free and easy movement of students, researchers and leads on projects; it has made the flow of equipment and samples to facilitate their work seamless and tariff free. In autumn 2016, I was involved in a debate about the potential impacts of Brexit on research funding. During that debate, I read out a long letter from Samantha Le Sommer, a PhD research student who was working in the University of Aberdeen on groundbreaking cell research—members should remember that, at that time, the UK Government had two years left to negotiate a deal that would limit the potential negative impacts. For reference, the letter is in its entirety in the Official Report of 4 October 2016. I read it back before I wrote my speech for today’s debate. It is utterly depressing how many of the issues that Sam Le Sommer raised then are still unanswered. In fact, it is not just depressing; it is absolutely scandalous.
Samantha is now Dr Le Sommer, a postdoctoral research fellow working on the development of cell-based treatments for autoimmunity and cancer. She is doing research that will save lives in world-leading medical innovation. I got back in touch with her to ask her how things are now. I got another letter from her, and I would like to read out some of that now.
A lot of damage has already been done—people are leaving, I’ve witnessed good bye party after good bye party as EU scientists on short contracts choose to go home rather than stay here through the uncertainty of Brexit. But UK scientists are also leaving.
I myself am currently applying for jobs in the USA and Canada because I cannot plan a career here if there is a hard Brexit or a deal that is bad for my sector”,
which means that they cannot collaborate. She continues:
“People don’t realise, we are not paid by universities, we’re paid from the grant money researchers get. And a huge amount of that is from the EU. The EU has funded over £2 Bn in UK science since 2014, this is equivalent to around another research council in its entirety.”
I would like to read more out but I do not have the time.
When I finished my speech in October 2016, I said:
“Sam needs answers, Sam’s colleagues need answers and Sam’s university needs answers. Will that funding be replaced? Will that collaboration be possible? Will talented EU citizens still be able to study and work in our universities?”—[Official Report, 4 October 2016; c 59.]
We are still asking the same questions two years on. It is a scandal. I do not think that any of the research fraternity who was listening to Oliver Mundell’s speech and its message that they should cheer up will have got any comfort whatsoever.15:32
I start by welcoming the minister to his role—it is good to see him back in Government. This is an interesting debate and I am glad that he has chosen such an important subject.
Scotland has an excellent track record that we should all be proud of, notwithstanding the environment in which we find ourselves. We have five universities in Scotland that rank in the global top 200, which is more per capita than any other country in the world. That is something that everyone should be proud of.
This is the country that first cloned a mammal and where the MRI scanner was invented. Our universities support more than 180,000 jobs. In that respect, I support the part of Mr Lochhead’s motion that says that we should appreciate the significance of the international collaboration that our universities and research institutions foster and the effect that they have on life in Scotland. However, it is important to point out that that scientific excellence will continue to operate beyond the realms of a post-Brexit UK.
I say that not to detract from the important point that the Scottish Government wants to make today about listening to voices from the science community, which I think is a fair one. However, to date, Scottish universities have shown little sign of slowing down since the EU referendum when it comes to their continued participation and involvement on the international stage.
Just this week, a group of Scottish universities announced the creation of a blue carbon forum to analyse the way in which Scotland’s marine life could help to mitigate global climate change.
Recently, Scottish universities came together to form the industrial centre for artificial intelligence research in digital diagnostics, which is currently working to improve patient care throughout the national health service and is generating jobs in the technology and healthcare sectors.
Another example comes from my region of West Scotland, where the University of the West of Scotland hosted local first responders for joint training exercises and announced a partnership with Kibble Education and Care Centre to support vulnerable youth. It is also working in a number of areas to help people to get into the STEM sector locally. Some of that work is associated with the university’s new Lanarkshire campus, which will create a vital boost to jobs in the local economy.
The further and higher education sectors are going full steam ahead, as best they can, to promote Scotland as a good place in which to study.
The principal of another university in the west of Scotland, Sir Anton Muscatelli of the University of Glasgow, said that a hard Brexit would represent
“the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory”
and that we politicians have a “moral obligation” to avoid it. How exactly is he wrong?
I am pleased that the member brought that up. On those grounds, I challenge her to ensure that her MP colleagues in Westminster do not vote down a deal, which would result in a no-deal outcome. I encourage her to take that to her colleagues, because a hard Brexit is a real possibility if they vote down a deal that the Prime Minister brings back from Europe. I ask her to reflect on that. It is an important point and I am glad that she made it.
Part of what has made Scotland a world leader in academia is the resilience of some of these institutions and our commitment to them. However, we cannot have this debate and ignore the fact that, right now, we are seeing fewer and fewer clearing spaces available to Scottish students. This year, by late August, there were 900 courses available for students from the rest of the UK and fewer than 150 available for Scottish students, due to Government quotas. We are regularly warned that universities are in need of funding in order to remain financially sustainable and continue the research, and we have heard that again today; but nearly half of all Scottish universities are already running a deficit. There is no mention of that in the minister’s motion, and he did not mention it in his speech. The Government talks about the geographic mobility of students, but there is no conversation around the social mobility of students, especially those from Scotland. Let us have a debate about mobility, but let us not ignore the fact that domestic Government has a key role to play in ensuring that our higher education institutions are well placed and well funded to succeed, regardless of the constitutional or political environments in which they operate.
In the limited time that I have, I would also like to say that Scotland already participates in a number of programmes. Horizon 2020 and Erasmus are the most commonly cited, but there are many other multi-million pound partnerships between Scottish institutions and their European counterparts. Many of them ensure that Scotland is a leader in sectors and can fulfil its desire to be at the forefront of research and innovation. That desire will always remain.
Scottish universities play a pivotal role in our economy and our culture. Our amendment does not hide from the fact that we on these benches believe that future UK visa structures should continue to allow institutions to recruit the brightest and the best staff and students from wherever they may be. We need people, but those people also need courses, and they need well-funded universities to work and study in.
Let us have a sensible debate about the future of Scotland’s higher education, but let us not single out one aspect and ignore others. The Scottish Government has a role to play in this devolved matter, and the lack of awareness of that in its motion today is quite telling—and entirely predictable.15:39
I welcome the minister to his new post. I apologise for missing the first couple of minutes of his speech, but I enjoyed what I did hear.
Within the Brexit debate, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture in the detail of the daily back and forth of negotiations. The future of all sectors in Scotland is at stake, but the future of our universities in particular will be determined in the months to come.
As others have said, Scotland has until now more than pulled its weight in cross-border research collaboration, and the success of our universities in securing research income and delivering groundbreaking research is testament to that. The figures for the past few years are impressive. As of July 2018, Scottish organisations had secured almost €533 million of funding from the EU’s horizon 2020 research fund alone. That represents more than 11 per cent of the total UK funding, so we are punching above our weight. The University of Edinburgh, which is within walking distance of where I stand, is the seventh largest individual recipient of horizon 2020 funds—a remarkable achievement that is under threat, as Brexit-backing Tories seem to think that we can simply keep calm and carry on. That is just not good enough.
Oliver Mundell and other Conservative members have accused the other parties of being too negative about this, but we are just repeating what higher education institutions tell us. The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into the article 50 negotiations and preparedness, and we have received a number of submissions from higher education institutions, which I urge the Conservatives to read.
One of the most worrying submissions came from the University of the Highlands and Islands. It states:
“The university has worked closely with a wide range of EU higher education institutions, some over decades. Whilst many still state that their intention is to continue to work with us, irrespective of the final outcome of Article 50 negotiations, some are becoming hesitant about future collaboration. We have had one example of a research partnership where UHI had been the proposed lead applicant negotiations, however, in response to continuing Article 50 uncertainty, the partnership agreed that the chances of a successful application were greater with a non-UK lead ... This is understandable in the highly competitive process of many EU programme applications—but is a worry for future collaboration.”
The UHI submission goes on to express concerns about other funding streams, such as the Interreg VA cross-border programmes. It says:
“there is great uncertainty surrounding future access to such programmes”.
It also mentions structural funding, which it says has been “transformational” for the organisation.
The submission from Universities Scotland makes similar points. I mention in particular its concerns about EU nationals in the higher education sector, because it is clearly not convinced by any of the reassurances that are being given by the Tories. Universities Scotland says:
“We are seeking clarity on:
What the residency, work and study rights would be of those EU nationals already working, studying or on Erasmus+”
What … immigration rules and requirements will be in place for EU nationals
How the UK Government’s intended underwrites would work in practice …
Whether Scottish HEIs could access replacements to parts of the Horizon 2020 programme …
Whether Scottish HEIs could access a replacement to Erasmus+”.
Therefore, Universities Scotland is certainly not reassured by any of the Conservatives’ bland statements that it will be all right on the night.
I commend the Labour amendment, because we need to look to the future, and the future is horizon Europe. The current proposal for the new scheme is that it will have a 20 per cent bigger budget than its predecessor. As one Commission official wryly noted at its launch, the EU27 will gain at our expense because we will not be part of horizon Europe. The official was quoted as saying:
“It’s not only that the cake is bigger than before, but that the guy that was eating more of that cake is not around the table anymore.”
I suppose that we could find grim solace in the fact that at last we have found one example of having your cake and eating it. However, I assume that leave campaigners did not have the universities of the EU27 in mind when they used that phrase.
A key part of the new programme will be to foster collaboration, not only across nations but between industry and academia, to tackle the five big challenges that we face—health, security, digital, climate and food research.
As today’s debate takes place, there is still a lively discussion in Brussels about what matters most and how we need to work together to ensure that horizon Europe delivers on its potential. The UK Government has asserted that Scottish universities will still be able to participate in the future, but I do not see the concrete steps towards delivering that.
Having no deal would, of course, be a disaster. After the performance of the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, when discussing a no-deal scenario last week, does anybody seriously think that EU nationals would be safe to continue their work in Scotland? That means that nearly a quarter of the research-only staff in Scotland’s universities face an uncertain future. Scotland deserves better than that.15:45
I, too, welcome Richard Lochhead to his post and thank him for agreeing to meet me at very early doors to discuss the University of the Highlands and Islands.
No Friday evening pub quiz is complete without questions about famous Scottish scientists and their inventions. All of us in the chamber today know the easy answers: we know that John Logie Baird invented the television, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. However, what happens if we move to the more challenging level? What about Williamina Fleming, John Napier and Professor John Macleod? I do not see any hands raised, so I assume that ignorance is bliss. The answers are that they invented or discovered the designation system for stars, log tables and insulin, respectively.
We heard earlier, and I agree, that Scotland has a proud record of scientific excellence and that international collaboration has been a key factor. Let me give one example from history. Professor John Macleod, whom I mentioned, was an Aberdonian who emigrated to North America and shared the 1923 Nobel prize for medicine with a Canadian, Frederick Banting, for the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921-22. Prior to that discovery, type 1 diabetes was a life-threatening condition; I speak as the convener of the cross-party group on diabetes.
I warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s debate and support the motion in Richard Lochhead’s name. In the brief time that I have, I will focus my remarks on the positive note that the EU has played in our universities over the past 45 years through two main areas. The first is the critically important access to research collaborations across the EU and beyond, facilitating what is in the jargon called curiosity-driven research and made easy by freedom of movement for our researchers and scientists. The second is the access to major research funding through the various framework funding models that we have heard about from other speakers.
We have heard a lot about the flagship horizon 2020 programme and I agree that it has been crucial in accelerating cutting-edge science across our university sector and beyond. However, on a note of caution, I read in The Guardian recently that there has been
“a downturn in both UK participation in, and funding from, the project.”
Across the board, there have been concerns from university vice-chancellors that UK projects are losing out, even before Brexit has taken place. I make it clear that Scotland and the UK do extremely well out of the current system, but there are concerns about the situation since the Brexit vote.
Let me give some examples. In 2017, the proportion of UK participation in horizon 2020 was 15 per cent of the total, with just under a 16 per cent share of the funding. However, the Universities UK figures show that, this year, UK participation fell to 12 per cent and UK funding fell to 13 per cent. Do not take my word for it; Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK said:
“It highlights the urgent need for clarity on the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 beyond Brexit and, while the UK is still a member of the EU, the need to communicate that the UK universities and researchers are still eligible to participate and apply for funding through EU research and innovation programmes.”
There has been another worrying development. The Guardian carried out a confidential survey of the Russell group universities, which, as members will know, include the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. It found evidence of discrimination against UK researchers, with some such researchers being asked to leave EU-funded projects. In one case that was cited by The Guardian, an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of the funding was not guaranteed.
Another key aspect is freedom of movement, which is fundamental to the EU. I believe that Scotland has benefited from the ability to attract world-leading scientists to embark on global research projects because of the UK’s membership of the EU. It has also given our early career researchers the opportunity to travel freely across the EU, to develop new ideas and products with their peers and to bring that knowledge back to Scotland. I think that it was Tavish Scott who mentioned the letter from leading academics across Scotland that was published The Sunday Times. They said:
“We cannot and must not allow Scotland and the UK to lose the leading role they have in these networks, as it is not easily replaced. Unfortunately, we are already seeing a loss of leadership in research collaboration since the Brexit vote.”
It is useful to look at the total funding that Scotland received from framework programme 7, which is the programme that preceded horizon 2020. It received €729.5 million, including €3 million for marine renewables research at the UHI in my region. Such projects make a real difference to innovation across the region. They often build on the platform of major structural fund investment over the past three decades, which has made such a difference to my region’s economy. There were plans to develop in key sectors, such as renewables and the health sciences, in the remainder of the horizon 2020 programme and as part of the future horizon Europe activity, but those plans have been limited as a result of Brexit.
Time is against me, so I will make a final key point. We probably need the predictive powers of the Brahan seer to be able to identify the next steps in the Brexit process. The challenge for Scotland in the future is twofold. We need to maintain the spend on research and use every technique to secure the best and brightest talent from across Europe and beyond. Brexit casts a dark shadow, but by using our history of innovation and scientific endeavour, we will continue to create new knowledge for generations yet unborn.
So far, members have had a bit of leeway, but from now on we will need to be a bit tighter. I ask for speeches of up to six minutes.15:52
Most members of the Scottish Parliament will be aware of the world-acclaimed reputation of the Golden Jubilee national hospital in Clydebank. Although it provides a wide range of services, it is best known as the home of the regional and national heart and lung service, a flagship hospital for reducing waiting times and the Golden Jubilee research institute. On the research side of the hospital’s work, significant pharmaceutical research projects have been undertaken. Twenty-three such projects are under way, 10 per cent of the research funding for which comes directly from the EU, and 30 per cent of the staff at the hospital are non-UK citizens.
The Golden Jubilee national hospital is truly an international undertaking located in Scotland. Indeed, many overseas medical researchers are drawn there because of the superb facilities and the high reputation of the work that has been undertaken. The Golden Jubilee is also one of the biggest employers in my constituency. It employs more than 1,700 staff, and its plans to extend the building and its facilities and to increase staff levels to 2,900 are well advanced.
Unfortunately, Brexit has already had a negative effect on the hospital’s workload. Recently, trials of a new heart drug were halted by the Californian medical research group Recardio, which cited
“uncertainty due to EU withdrawal”.
While drug trial work in UK hospitals has been cancelled by Recardio, it has continued with such work at continental European facilities. The major problem seems to be medicines regulation post-Brexit. It is not certain that the European Medicines Agency will accept data that is generated in the UK post-Brexit, which means that all internationally funded medical research in the UK is under threat.
My constituent Dr Kevin Parsons, who is a biodiversity lecturer at the University of Glasgow, is preparing what is likely to be his final European research grant application. The grant amounts to €2 million, which is his research group’s biggest source of funding, and it has provided continuity for his research projects for several years. Members can imagine how damaging the loss of that funding will be.
European research networks, which foster collaborative work across the EU, are already dropping their UK partners because of Brexit-related uncertainty. The fact that the UK pays in less for European research than it gets suggests that the UK’s research industry will experience a significant loss after Brexit. Of course, foreign-born academics will follow the money.
The UK Home Office has been less than helpful to retaining in Scotland the high-quality foreign-born academics who we need to keep our research and development industry at the forefront of world achievement.
Along with other Health and Sport Committee members, I visited the Golden Jubilee hospital to see its excellent facilities. When we were there, we were told that recruitment of medical staff is as much of an issue, and that is his Government’s responsibility. Does Gil Paterson have any comments on that and on the shortage of specialists?
Miles Briggs tries to conflate two different things. [Interruption.] If the member will let me finish, I will say that the impact that Brexit is already having on the Golden Jubilee is clear. By referring to the situation of one of my constituents, I will explain further the damage that is likely to happen.
Last year, my constituent Dr Kevin Parsons, who is a Canada-born academic at the University of Glasgow, came face to face with the mindless and insensitive bureaucracy of the Home Office. He came to Scotland under his wife’s UK ancestry visa in 2012. When she applied for UK citizenship, he was advised to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which he required to continue his work. His application was refused on a technicality.
At Glasgow university, Dr Parsons managed a research group that employed two highly educated researchers and included three postgraduates who were working for their PhDs. He attracted external research funding that paid for the whole group. That enhanced the university’s research reputation and assisted with the university’s finances generally. To make things worse, a £1.3 million grant from the UK Government for Dr Parsons to continue his research, which he received a few weeks before the refusal, could have been lost, while that Government was at the same time threatening his right to stay in Scotland. Fortunately, after a substantial public outcry, Dr Parsons was granted indefinite leave to remain.
That Home Office incompetence could have resulted in the closure of the biodiversity research group at Glasgow university; the loss of substantial research funding to Scotland; the loss of three well paid and highly skilled research jobs; the loss of study opportunities for three postgraduate students; and the deportation of a young family who have much to offer Scotland. That example is from just one project.
All that would have harmed Scottish society, and that incompetence happened before Brexit. With a no-deal result from the Brexit negotiations, the prospects for international research collaboration and for the Scottish research industry will be sorely damaged. With no deal, Scotland will lose significant EU funding; international medical research funding; its worldwide reputation for excellent research and academic achievement; postgraduate opportunities; the ability to properly staff our hospitals and our research establishments; and much more.
It is therefore essential for the UK to remain in the customs union and the single market after Brexit. That is the only way in which Scotland’s research industry will survive at its present level.16:00
I am pleased to take part in this debate on the future of Scotland’s international research collaborations. The sector has done much already and we should rightly be proud of what it has achieved to date and will continue to achieve in the future.
Scotland is renowned for its innovative scientific research, and much of its success has been the result of international collaborations between both individuals and institutions from across the EU and around the world. In my region, I see much that has been and is being achieved in those institutions and I pay tribute to many of them: they are world leading in their sectors and I am confident that that will continue once we leave the EU.
Although EU funding is important and very much welcome, we should note that the £105 million of EU funding received by Scottish universities in 2016-17 accounts for only 13.5 per cent of their total research income. The vast majority of research funding, totalling £630 million, came from UK sources. That is a massive contribution and it happens because our facilities are held in such high regard, and, as I said, that will continue. The UK Government has provided some welcome reassurances to research institutions by committing to guarantee research funding that has been promised until 2020.
Does the member accept that 2020 is not that far away?
Yes, I am well aware that 2020 is not that far away, but it is the starting point and we will continue to move forward from then as we see the success that is gained.
Moreover, as part of the financial settlement that has been agreed between the UK and the European Commission, both the UK and the EU have agreed that the eligibility of UK researchers and businesses to participate in horizon 2020 will remain unchanged for the duration of the programme.
Although that is good news for the short term until 2020, we must continue to have strong working relationships with research institutions in the EU after that date. John Mason makes the very point that we will continue to do that. There is every possibility that we will continue to participate in the horizon programme as a third country in the same way as many non-EU countries are participating in the current horizon 2020 programme. That needs to become a reality; we need to ensure that we have that safeguard in place so that, after 2020, it becomes a reality.
Moreover, in the white paper on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, the Government proposed close co-operation between the UK and the EU on scientific research through co-operative accords, which seek to continue the UK’s participation in EU research funding programmes, and to allow us to continue to co-operate through networks, institutions, infrastructure, agencies and regulators where there is mutual benefit to the UK and the EU in our doing so.
It is incredibly important that the best and brightest researchers from the EU and other parts of the world can be here. We can look at what we have achieved so far by having such individuals here; they make a massive contribution to our facilities and will continue to do so. Currently, 19 per cent of researchers in Scotland are from the EU and 16 per cent are from other parts of the world. There is an opportunity for that to continue to grow and blossom.
It is reassuring that the UK Government has confirmed that EU citizens’ right of residency after Brexit will be guaranteed, as those citizens include many researchers who are already here. We are attempting to ensure that safeguards are in place before we get to that point to ensure that it happens, because that is what we require. I am confident that that will be the case as we go forward.
We need to look at the visa system that we have in order for universities to secure the highest calibre researchers. I call on the UK Government to keep that in mind as we shape a new immigration system following our departure from the EU.
Will the member take an intervention?
I would like to make some progress.
The Scottish Conservatives recognise the incredible value of our scientific research sector; it is world leading and must continue to be a world-leading sector. We have heard that we punch above our weight in Scotland. That has very much been the case, and I know that that will continue, because we have individuals, organisations and institutions that want to ensure that we keep that reputation.
We understand the importance of getting a good deal with the European Union to ensure continued international research co-operation and collaboration. I am confident that the UK Government will achieve that. The economic, social and cultural benefits are considerable. I support the amendment in Oliver Mundell’s name.16:05
We seem to have been debating Brexit in the chamber and in committees for a fairly long time. However, like it or not, we still need to focus on the implications—the barriers that might spring up and the impact on reputation, which is also important.
Sadly, the impact on our universities and wider science and research communities was not carefully considered before the EU referendum vote. As in other areas, it has become increasingly clear from the work of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—both of which I sit on—that many sectors, including the one that we are talking about today, are being seriously impacted on by Brexit. Whatever the intentions of people who voted for Brexit were, the message has gone out, and continues to go out, that the UK is isolationist and does not welcome foreigners.
Freedom of movement is probably the key factor in today’s debate; several members have mentioned it. We want students to come here and study, and we want our students to be able to go to the best institutions around the world. We want top academics and researchers to make their homes here—or, at least, to be able freely to move around the world and around universities, including our own.
I think that we would all agree with what John Mason has said. However, how does he square that view with regard to Scottish medical students? As things stand under his Government, only 50 per cent of Scots applicants to medical school get to study at Scottish medical schools. That figure is down from 75 per cent when his party came to power.
As I understand it, visas for medical students and any other students are still controlled by the Home Office. We certainly want more foreign students to come here, as well as wanting our students to be able to study overseas.
As other members have said, it is clear that Scotland’s universities and their research are very much at the top end. For example, 77 per cent of Scotland’s university research is deemed to be “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”. Richard Lochhead and Iain Gray referred to figures, such as that nine of Scotland’s universities rank in the top 200. Scotland is second in the world for top universities per head of population—only marginally behind Switzerland.
Many examples of funding have been given, including the horizon 2020 case study on the European prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia. The University of Edinburgh is involved with public and private sector organisations across Europe. At UK level, too, there has been great benefit from EU research projects. From 2007 to 2013, the UK contributed €5.4 billion and got back €8.8 billion.
Comments from Scotland’s five medical schools are telling. Chances to lead international collaborations and clinical trials could be lost, so our world-class reputation could suffer. The schools say that it is not just about funding; there are concerns about connectivity, and about the ability to address major healthcare questions because of multipopulations being lost to them. Networks and collaborations that have taken years to formulate could be put in jeopardy, and there has already been a loss of leadership in research collaborations since the Brexit vote, as other members have mentioned.
We can thank the Royal Society of Edinburgh for its briefing for today’s debate. It argues along similar lines by talking about the complementarity of the UK and EU research funding systems having made the UK an excellent place to have a research career. The RSE emphasises that it is necessary for the UK to attract and retain the highest-quality staff from across the globe, as well as to continue to develop the domestic skills base. Tavish Scott cited RSE figures, such as 18 per cent of academic staff in Scotland being from the EU. The RSE also highlights that 31 per cent of such staff are non-UK citizens. That figure rises to 46 per cent for engineering and technology staff. In addition, 22 per cent of Scottish university students are international students.
The RSE makes the point that researchers and innovators want and need to work with the best in their fields. Therefore, even if the UK Government maintains funding for UK research, we would still lose full UK participation in EU programmes and lose the benefits of collaborative activity and the critical mass that the EU gives.
The RSE calls for full participation in horizon 2020 and horizon Europe, but warns that “associated status” for the UK may be the only option, and that that is
“very uncertain and unpredictable territory”.
It seeks a proportionate and flexible immigration policy that takes into account the needs and circumstances of devolved nations. As, I think, we have discussed here before, the RSE considers that students should be removed from the net migration target, and that the post-study work visa should be available for international students at universities.
I want to mention a specific sector: the space industry, particularly Glasgow’s satellite sector. Scotland’s space industry is reckoned to generate about £1 billion for the economy and supports 20,000 jobs. Glasgow produces more satellites than any city outside the USA. Scotland’s first satellite was launched only four years ago by Clyde Space Ltd. Alba Orbital and Spire Global also operate in the city. The Strathclyde space institute, which is based at the University of Strathclyde, has seven horizon 2020 projects that have a total value of €25 million.
The European Space Agency is distinct from the European Union, so the UK could leave the European Union and remain a member of the agency. However, my understanding is that it would not be eligible to participate in EU-funded programmes, which would be a problem.
Presiding Officer, if I have no leeway, I will finish here.
Thank you very much, Mr Mason.16:11
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate.
Many of us have universities in our constituencies and regions: the University of St Andrews and the University of Stirling are in my region. I graduated with a degree from the University of Edinburgh, before gaining a doctorate at the University of Glasgow. My undergraduate roommate was from America, and I studied for a PhD alongside a student from Turkey.
Despite our being a small country in population terms, we have an impressive number of excellent universities and research institutions that attract talent from overseas. We have seen Scotland lead on research and innovation and work collaboratively with other universities, especially in the European Union. Scotland punches above its weight.
In December 2017, Universities UK highlighted the vital contribution that EU staff make to UK universities through its #brightestminds campaign. That included a collection of case studies highlighting the research and stories of leading EU academics who were working in UK universities, including in Scotland. It illustrated the world-class research that is carried out by European staff in the UK and how that could be hindered by further Brexit uncertainty.
Today’s debate focuses on scientific excellence. In 2015-16, 59 per cent of European Economic Area staff worked in departments that were defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency as science, engineering or technology, which are all positive growth areas in our economy.
I am sure that academics in members’ regions have been raising concerns, and that members in the chamber this afternoon are well aware of the potential impact of Brexit on our higher and further education sector.
Many members who have spoken today took part in the debate that was held by the then Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations committee following our inquiry into Erasmus+. Despite the fact that the debate took place in May, and negotiations have been continuous, many of the concerns still apply today. The future of Erasmus+, along with horizon Europe, will have a significant impact on our further and higher institutions and our leading research institutions.
The committee’s report into Erasmus+ found that many organisations and sectors are particularly reliant on the funding and opportunities that the programme provides, so losing their ability to participate could have a significant impact. The committee found that the Department for Exiting the European Union had failed to produce any analysis into the role and value of Erasmus+. In the light of the UK Government’s lack of activity, we urged the Scottish Government to conduct such analysis for Scottish institutions, and to explore the possibility of using existing structures, such as Education Scotland and the British Council Scotland, to develop a framework for continued participation beyond 2020.
I note that the Conservative amendment highlights the Prime Minister’s decision to commit to continued membership of Erasmus+ until 2020, but that is only a one-year extension. Our universities have to be able to commit to forward planning beyond that extension period, so I hope that the minister can outline in his closing remarks the work that the Government has undertaken to explore other options.
There is no doubt that just as Brexit risks the future of Erasmus+, so it risks the ability and ease with which collaborative research is carried out. Horizon 2020 funding accounts for hundreds of projects across 89 collaborating countries and more than 2,000 organisations. Scottish HEIs receive 13 per cent of the UK share of that funding, which accounts for 9 per cent of our total research funding. That funding is vital, so we must find ways to continue to contribute to and benefit from its successor programme, horizon Europe.
Universities Scotland makes it clear that
“if Scotland is to retain its outstanding reputation for delivering world-class research, with worldwide impact, then membership of Horizon Europe is essential.”
It must go beyond simply being members; it must be about informing the programme’s development and ensuring that our universities and researchers are able to take advantage of the grants, the networks and the data that are available. That will be difficult as we become a third partner. Until we have a deal or—at the very least—guarantees from Westminster and Brussels of the UK’s continued involvement, as with Erasmus+, there is limited scope for our universities to forward plan.
We must also heed the warnings of leading academics who, last month, wrote an open letter referring to the “dire consequences” that are facing Scottish higher education as Brexit and, in particular, the ending of free movement risk the already well-established co-operation opportunities that are open to academics, students, researchers and scientists.
Moreover, as our students want to go to Milan or Barcelona to learn and work, so students from across Europe see Scotland as a popular destination of choice and want to come here to learn in our renowned and respected universities and research facilities. We should not be closing a door on the collaborative work that can drive research and benefit the country as a whole.
Last week, Professor Alan Manning, who is the chair of the UK Government Migration Advisory Committee, gave evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. What he said did not fill me with confidence. The advisory committee’s recent report on international students lays out, in no uncertain terms, the impact of Brexit on students and on our universities, stating:
“We do not, though, see any upside for the sector in leaving the EU: any barriers to student mobility are likely to have a negative impact”.
It is therefore disappointing that, despite acknowledging this, the MAC explicitly called for the UK Government not to introduce a separate post-study work visa.
The fresh talent initiative, which was introduced by Jack McConnell and the then Labour-led Executive, had a clear positive impact on student recruitment and retention.
I was part of the cross-party steering group on post-study work that was brought together by the then Minister for Europe and International Development, Humza Yousaf, and which recently lobbied the UK Government for the post-study work visa’s reintroduction. The group has been united in our approach. It was clear to us that, given Scotland’s slower population growth, the need to expand our workforce and the existing skills shortages in certain sectors, the provision of opportunities for non-EU international graduates in Scotland is vital.
The ending of free movement for EU students will make the situation even more acute. According to Universities Scotland, more than 12 per cent of staff in Scotland’s HEIs and 16 per cent of postgraduate researchers are from the EU. Scotland’s EU workforce is young and is concentrated in academic roles, particularly in science.
At last week’s meeting of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, the Migration Advisory Committee’s chair talked about the UK Government’s ambition for a high-skills, high-wage economy. If we are to achieve that, knowledge exchange and increasing intellectual capacity are key. Success in those areas relies on international engagement. The university and research sector must be listened to and its needs positively responded to if we are to avoid damaging that important sector.16:19
I welcome Richard Lochhead to his new role.
In July 2017, the London School of Economics and Political Science’s cities centre published a report that contained the finding that Aberdeen could be the worst-hit city in the UK as a result of Brexit. The report’s authors concluded that, under a hard Brexit, economic output in the city would go down by 3.7 per cent and that, under a soft Brexit, it would be reduced by 2.1 per cent.
That is the stark reality that faces my constituents because Scotland is being taken out of the EU against its will, even though just over 61 per cent of the people of Aberdeen voted to remain in the EU. Let me say to Mr Mundell that I know where my interests lie: with my constituents.
The University of Aberdeen, which over the years has built a strong reputation as a research-intensive university with a strong international outlook, says that it is
“extremely concerned about the impact that Britain’s exit from the European Union will have on our research, student recruitment and the learning experience we offer. Obviously the possibility of a no-deal Brexit heightens these risks further.”
In February 2018, the then principal and vice-chancellor Sir Ian Diamond stated at a Westminster reception that the UK Government needed to clarify the rights of EU citizens in higher education—not just lecturers, but other staff such as language assistants and technicians—and their families to live and work in the UK. Now we are in November and, with each day, we are edging closer to a no-deal outcome, but we still have no more of an idea about what the future will bring for EU nationals who live in our communities.
Of course, the issue of citizenship and the right to remain extends beyond people who study or work in higher education. I am sure that, like me, other MSPs have had EU nationals contacting their offices for advice about Brexit. My constituency office window is full of adverts for upcoming EU citizenship events and is regularly updated as new events are announced. Indeed, the marine laboratory in Torry, which Tavish Scott mentioned, is very near my constituency office and has many Europeans among its staff.
As a result of Brexit, higher education institutions stand to lose talented students, devoted staff and vital access to EU funding programmes such as horizon 2020, which is now known as horizon Europe. Retaining access and membership of horizon Europe was described as “essential” by Universities Scotland and, according to the Royal Society of Scotland, should be “a priority” for the UK Government.
Some years ago, I was involved in the GILDED—governance, infrastructure, lifestyle dynamics and energy demand—project through the James Hutton Institute, which Tavish Scott also mentioned and which has one of its sites in my constituency. As part of that pan-European project, there was collaboration with institutions in Poland and the Netherlands. Now we are all fearful of the uncertainty, which is already damaging things. I understand that Universities UK is continuing to lobby the UK Government to make contingency plans in the event that access to such funding is lost. Perhaps the UK Government will use some of the supposed £350 million a week in savings that were emblazoned on the leave buses to help with the situation, but I am not holding my breath.
We can be proud that nine of Scotland’s universities are in the global top 200 for international outlook, as that demonstrates our appeal to students and academics from across the world. However, with Brexit, our universities stand to lose the opportunity to collaborate with other European universities; they also stand to lose students, who are worried about their right to study here. According to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service statistics, EU students coming to Scotland fell by 10 per cent in 2017. Can we blame them for being worried about the implications of Brexit and what it might mean for their right to study at our universities? It sends out the wrong message—that they are unwelcome—when the truth is that Scotland has always welcomed citizens from the EU and beyond with open arms.
Ross Greer and others have mentioned the importance of the Erasmus programme, which was championed by Winnie Ewing when she was a member of the European Parliament. My daughter benefited hugely from her year abroad—she is now bilingual and working in Paris. I brought my children up to believe that the world was their oyster; little did I believe that I was telling them a lie.
Our loss is other European universities’ gain. The centre for global higher education at University College London has reported that it became evident in February 2018 that European universities were using the uncertainty of Brexit to poach UK-based academics, with Germany in particular standing to benefit. The report notes that Germany sees Brexit as a “window of opportunity” to attract UK-based researchers, which is ironic considering the relentless promises about the opportunities of Brexit that we hear from the Conservative Government.
The real opportunities could be grasped by remaining in the European single market and the customs union. That would avert the need to consider any sort of contingency planning to protect our valued educational institutions from the damaging consequences of Brexit. Instead, not only is our higher education sector facing threats but, as we now know, the very being of the Scottish Parliament is being threatened by the shameful Tory Westminster Government.16:25
We have heard much today about the vital work that our UK and Scottish research institutions carry out. That work is world leading. From the Fraunhofer centre for applied photonics at the University of Strathclyde to the first international Max Planck institute partnerships, we have heard from all members about Scotland’s long history of and reputation for scientific prowess, with the potential for much more in the future.
The Conservatives welcome the recent news that Glasgow will be home to a £15.8 million artificial intelligence health research centre as part of the UK Government’s plans to utilise artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector. That is a major boost for Scotland’s life sciences sector. The industrial centre for artificial intelligence research in digital diagnostics, which is to be known as iCaird, will examine how Al can enable better patient diagnosis, treatment and outcomes. Anna Dominiczak, who is vice-principal and head of the college of medical, veterinary and life sciences at the University of Glasgow, said:
“The formation of iCaird is a great coup for Scotland and its people, and further positions Scotland’s ability to be a global leader in precision medicine.
The iCaird epitomises our ‘triple helix’ approach to healthcare innovation and precision medicine by developing research and innovation concurrently in industry, the NHS and academia.
By locating at the Clinical Innovation Zone at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, alongside partners in industry and the NHS, iCaird will also drive open innovation and encourage further industry collaborations.”
We have heard that we are all proud of the reputation of the research that Scotland’s institutions conduct and produce. Some 77 per cent of Scotland’s university research is deemed world leading or internationally excellent. In addition, 85.9 per cent of Scottish research is judged to have an outstanding or very considerable impact on the economy, society and culture beyond academia.
The motion highlights the challenges that we face, but it fails to acknowledge the great potential and positivity that we all must work towards as we move towards leaving the European Union. This has been mentioned before, but, as we all know, until the UK leaves the EU, we have the reassurance that we will remain a member state, with all the rights and obligations that that entails. That means that UK entities are eligible to participate in all aspects of the horizon 2020 programme until we leave the EU. I think that John Mason mentioned that it is not long until 2020. Moving forward, we need to support a deal specifically for the sector.
Looking forward, I think that it is significant that the UK Government has signalled a commitment to the future of our country and the world through our goal to increase UK research and development spending to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027.
Alistair Jarvis, who is chief executive of Universities UK, has backed our commitment to horizon 2020 funding, saying:
“The extension of the UK government’s underwrite until the end of the Horizon 2020 program is welcome news.”
I think that we all welcome that news. He also mentioned that that is guaranteed even if there is a no-deal scenario, which, of course, we do not want. We want everyone to get behind a UK Government deal and behind the Prime Minister.
The UK Government has proposed post-Brexit co-operation in the sciences between the UK and the EU. The UK Government’s white paper on our future relationship with the EU includes science and innovation among the areas that will be covered by the co-operative accords that will replace our current relationship with the EU. As we leave the EU, it is inevitable that freedom of movement will end, but the UK Government has made it clear that a flexible system will be put in place to attract the brightest and best research students and researchers.
No matter what members on the other side of the chamber try to spin or put a negative angle on, we know that EU citizens’ right of residence after Brexit is guaranteed. Let us be really clear about that. The UK Government has introduced the settled status scheme, so EU citizens will have that right and can remain in the UK after 2020. The UK Government is also proposing the continuation of cultural exchange programmes for students and the creation of a UK and EU mobility scheme. John Swinney mentioned the post-study work visa scheme, which is something that Liz Smith has been championing. We have not had a definitive no, and we would like to continue to support that.
The member has given assurances, as have her colleagues, on the status of EU citizens. Why, then, does Universities Scotland’s submission to the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee raise so many questions about the status of EU citizens? Universities Scotland is clearly not convinced by those reassurances.
Perhaps it has not actually read about the settled status scheme—[Interruption.] Honestly, we say time and time again that there is a settled status scheme, which is a reassurance for those people that they will be able to stay in the UK post-Brexit.
On that point, we have to be careful, because there are many people from the EU in scientific research roles here. They make up 19 per cent, with about 67 per cent coming from the rest of the UK. We need to ensure that we have lots and lots of excellent researchers—the brightest and the best—not only from the rest of the UK but from the EU and from non-EU countries. We need to get behind that, and we absolutely can do that. I think that Joan McAlpine should reassure Scottish universities about that.
I reiterate that Brexit is not the end point of great scientific research in the UK and Scotland, as the Government’s motion suggests. The negativity and lack of co-operation from the Government on Brexit matters are stifling the progress of what Scotland and the UK can achieve. The constant interventions from back benchers are so negative. It is a grievance agenda and it is not a positive approach. We have such potential here. We have the brightest and the best, but we want to attract more. It is just a shame that the SNP cannot see that.
We move to the closing speeches. I call Tavish Scott, to be followed by Iain Gray.16:32
I am not sure that too many members on the Conservative benches read in preparation for the debate the briefings from Universities Scotland or the Royal Society of Edinburgh or the evidence that the individual institutions that Joan McAlpine mentioned have given to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. It would do them good to do so.
To help Miles Briggs, as I suspect that poor old Miles has to do the wind-up speech for the Conservatives, I have dug out the University of Edinburgh statistics, given that he is one of our Lothian members. The University of Edinburgh has participated in more than 300 European collaborative projects, and in the current year it has received something in the order of £403 million for new research—that is European Union research grants. Since 1987, the university has sent more than 12,000 students to Europe. I am sure that, in his wind-up speech, Mr Briggs will want to consider the impact on the University of Edinburgh, never mind the impacts on Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University or the other institutions in the capital city of Scotland.
May I add to that list? Not only are those figures notable, but Edinburgh is one of the biggest recipients of European research funding not just in Scotland but in the whole of the UK.
With its endless modesty, the University of Edinburgh does not mention that in its briefing, but I entirely take Daniel Johnson’s point.
I want to make two other points to members on the Conservative benches. There has been some mention of an ability to look way beyond 2020. To begin with, I thought that that was a wonderful new pitch for a new timescale for the transition period. However, the point about the horizon 2020 project is that nothing whatsoever is guaranteed post 2020. That project is the reason why the University of Edinburgh and others have been able to garner the extent of research funding that they have received over the years. It is not about a guarantee of funding until 2020. It is about what happens after that.
Anyone who asks questions of universities and finds out about the subject will hear about the time that it takes to put projects together, which can be from now until 2020. That is the danger that the academic institutions of Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK face. If Jamie Greene has an answer to that, I will happily give way.
Mr Scott is right. We need to look beyond 2020. I know that the UK minister for this area made an announcement recently that he is having a very active and positive discussion with the EU about it. In that context, it is valid to negotiate how much the UK should pay into the EU and what access the UK gets in return, but I am enthused that there is a positive conversation about what happens after 2020.
We will look forward to that conversation.
Of course, academics and the student body are a part of society that is in favour of a rational, evidence-based opportunity to explore and then test the merits of whatever deal emerges from the Brexit negotiations. Today, Parliament can support that position. Today could be a significant moment for the Scottish Parliament and the UK-wide campaign to stop a calamitous Brexit. On three previous occasions, only the Liberal Democrat members voted for a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. Today, that outcome could be very different. I welcome the support of the SNP and the Greens. There are more and more senior figures in other parties adding their voices—among the Conservatives, we have notable figures such as the former Prime Minister, John Major, Justine Greening, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston. There are not many obsessives there, I suggest.
We also know that the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters in Scotland do not agree with a pro-Brexit policy. Senior figures such as Sadiq Khan, Chuka Umunna and Ian Murray have led the charge, and many reasonable Labour members here today also consider that that position needs to change. There is a real momentum now and a demonstrable shift in attitudes in every corner of the UK. Last month, we witnessed the second biggest public demonstration in Britain in the past century.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will finish these points. Seven hundred thousand people took part, a number that was surpassed only by the number of people who protested against the Iraq war. Nobody voted for the current chaos. People are entitled to have the final say on that deal, whenever London and Brussels conclude it. That is what should happen and Parliament should vote for that today. Many academics think that their MSPs should be doing exactly that.
That brings me to the examples that were made today in a range of areas, particularly on the immigration system. Joan McAlpine, Ross Greer and a number of others mentioned the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee and its recommendations. With regard to Jamie Greene’s point about trying to find a way forward, in its briefing for today’s debate, the RSE made an important point that bears close examination. It said that, in support of many parliamentary committees in London and Edinburgh, it has strongly pushed the idea that the UK Government should remove student migration from the net migration target to make it clear that it wants talent to come to the UK. Coupled with that, it should reintroduce the post-study work visa for international students at all universities. Taking those actions together would alleviate the tension between the UK Government’s commitment to reduce net migration and its ambition to ensure that the UK remains a hub for international talent.
We all await that outcome and many have been pushing for it for some considerable time. We are long overdue a sensible outcome to what is an unanswerable case, which will support academic institutions and student bodies here in Scotland and right around the UK.
I will reflect on two comments that were made in the Nobel laureates’ letter to the Prime Minister, which I mentioned earlier. The first was that
“Europe was the home of the enlightenment and the birthplace of modern science, but partly as a result of two devastating … wars in Europe … it suffered a”
It went on to argue that that has changed and that, rather than inhibiting progress, the benefits that have come through EU-related collaboration have led to great advances in science and, therefore, an increase in the number of opportunities that are available to the economy and the public in the wider community.
Those are very strong arguments and, on that basis, it seems to me to be unanswerable that the case must continue to be made.16:39
This afternoon, as expected, we have heard many examples of Scotland’s success in scientific research and of our universities’ excellence. Indeed, Dr Claire Baker, with her stellar qualifications, demonstrated how she epitomises that excellence. She pointed out an important European project that is sometimes missed in these debates, which is Erasmus+. Other members have mentioned its importance. Ross Greer made it clear that colleges, as well as universities, participate in Europe-wide collaborations, and Gil Paterson made an important point about how such institutions as the Golden Jubilee hospital engage in international collaborative cutting-edge research. This debate is not just about our universities; it is much wider than that.
At one stage, we had quite an entertaining diversion into a debate about obsession. Mr Mundell posited Mr Scott’s obsession with a people’s vote and Mr Scott responded by pointing out the obsession of Jacob Rees-Mogg and other colleagues with Brexit. I spoke about social scientists as well as scientists, because one of our great social scientists was, of course, Adam Smith. He once said:
“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition”.
I hope that it is true that science can be part of the antidote to the rather poisonous enthusiasm for Brexit of the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson or to the superstition in the highly dubious claims that they and some of their colleagues have made about the benefits, which Maureen Watt spoke about.
Therein lies the problem with the Tories’ contributions and their amendment. Mr Mundell spoke, in all sincerity I am sure, of his desire for
“a smooth and orderly Brexit”,
which is the thrust of the Tory amendment. The trouble for Mr Mundell is that there appears to be no such thing. Alexander Stewart spoke about his confidence that there would be every possible continuation of participation and collaboration in research. However, I tell Mr Stewart that no one has any confidence in that continued participation.
Does Mr Gray not recognise that, if the UK Labour Party in the House of Commons got seriously behind Theresa May’s approach to build a consensus, we would be in a stronger position to deliver certainty?
I absolutely do not, because Theresa May’s approach to Brexit has been a catastrophe. I will say more about that later.
Rachael Hamilton complained to members on the Government benches about the negativity of the Government’s motion, which we will support. I bow to nobody in my scepticism of the Scottish Government, but even I cannot stretch that to say that the problem with Brexit is its negativity about the Brexit deal.
The problem is the lack of confidence among people in our scientific community about what is happening. Gillian Martin said that they do not know what kind of Brexit they are looking at and Mr Scott pointed out that only 3 per cent of the scientific community feel that they are being listened to in any way at all. Joan McAlpine and David Stewart gave us exact illustrations of damage that has already happened, through the experience of the UHI and a fall in funding. The problem for Mr Mundell is that nobody believes that this Tory Government can deliver or is delivering
“a smooth and orderly Brexit”.
That is also our difficulty with the Liberal Democrat amendment. I personally find the idea of a people’s vote very attractive, as do many colleagues—as Mr Scott has said. However, I find even more attractive the idea of a general election and the prospect of an opportunity to get rid of the shambolic Conservative Government. It is entirely responsible for the whole sorry mess of Brexit, and its utterly incompetent two years of so-called negotiation is damaging our science and research base in Scotland and so much else besides. A general election remains the Labour Party’s preference to find our way out of the mess that has been created by the Conservative Government.16:44
I am pleased to close today’s debate for the Scottish Conservatives. On a positive note, I join colleagues from all parties who have commended the excellent work of Scotland’s scientists and researchers and the massive contribution that science, innovation and research make to the Scottish economy.
That is especially so in Lothian, with its vibrant life sciences sector that underpins many local jobs. Earlier this year, I visited Edinburgh Genomics at the Roslin Institute and was able to see its clinical facility and gene sequencing labs. The work that is being undertaken by Professor Bruce Whitelaw and his team is truly inspiring and has massive potential for the future, which means that Scotland is today well placed to play a leading role in exploiting and showing the world the potential for genetic technologies to make significant impact on health provision.
We all need to get behind and champion the work of those pioneering scientists, and we have heard that today from some members. Rachael Hamilton, Jamie Greene and Alexander Stewart specifically took the opportunity of the debate to do that in their own areas. Any new political deal with the EU—and I am confident that a comprehensive deal will emerge in the next few weeks—might provide some short-term challenges to the funding systems, as we have outlined today, but the UK Government is committed to working with industry and academia to resolve issues and to support those sectors. Indeed, as Oliver Mundell outlined, early in the withdrawal process, the UK Government guaranteed funding for UK research projects otherwise supported by the EU until 2020. It is continuing to look at how it will support research after 2020.
A number of members have spoken specifically about horizon 2020. It is an important point that we on these benches have been working on. I wondered what the SNP’s white paper said on the subject when it was making the case for Scotland to leave the UK and the EU. There is a lovely picture of Dolly the sheep but not much detail. It is important for today’s debate to know that the white paper says:
“Our universities are already active players on the world stage extending their world-class teaching offering and forming partnerships and research collaborations across the globe. We are keen to further develop these collaborations ... as a sovereign nation state, to promote Scottish higher education overseas”.
I see nothing in that that the UK Government is not doing today.
Instead of spreading the doom and gloom that we have heard today, the SNP and the Scottish Government should be making a similar commitment to back these important sectors, look at what they can do to help them, and send out the message globally that Scotland and our United Kingdom are open for business and want to see more research, development and innovation take place here.
The fundamentals of our research and science sectors remain strong, not least because we have a high concentration of world-class universities such as the University of Edinburgh, Napier University and Heriot-Watt University providing highly skilled graduates, if Scots can get into their universities, as a number of members have outlined when talking about our medical degrees.
Scotland’s life sciences sector is a key part of our international reputation for scientific excellence and our pharmaceutical industry is an important element of that. I welcome the recently published Fraser of Allander institute report on the economic contribution of the pharmaceutical industry in Scotland. It showed that the industry supports a total of £2.5 billion of industrial output in Scotland and that exports of manufactured pharmaceutical products contribute £462 million to the Scottish economy and underpin 5,000 jobs across our country. Every 100 jobs in the wider pharmaceutical sector supports an additional 240 jobs elsewhere in the Scottish economy.
Concerns are being expressed, however, about falling levels of business spending on research and development in Scotland. SNP ministers have already fudged previous targets that they set themselves to grow the life sciences sector, so more needs to be done to encourage more investment, and we have ideas about how to achieve that.
SNP ministers could and should take action to ensure that data capturing capabilities do not slip back further than they already have. That means linking primary and secondary care data so that clinical trials can take place here in Scotland on a similar basis to trials such as GSK’s Salford lung study in England. That is a major issue for pharma companies across Scotland and I would like to see the minister, whom I welcome to his new position, take it seriously so that Scotland does not fall behind the rest of the UK in some of these areas.
Scotland’s research and scientific base is a success story, and I hope that today was about celebrating that. Scottish Conservatives value hugely the contribution of our scientists and researchers. Although we accept that Brexit might, in future, change some of the funding streams, we are confident that the UK Government and, if it steps up to the plate, the Scottish Government can work positively with industry and academia to put in place the new schemes that will grow the value of the sector and further boost our international reputation. We on these benches believe that the best days of Scotland’s researchers and scientists lie ahead of them and Scotland.
On the points that were made by Tavish Scott, it is odd that someone who represents Shetland fishing interests forgot to mention the fact that, last week, we learned of the support to Scotland’s fishing industry that is represented by the UK Government’s announcement of an extra £12 million to develop and support cutting-edge fishing technologies and safety measures, with £10 million to establish an innovation fund. UK Research and Innovation will establish that fund to ensure that the UK is a world leader in safe, sustainable and productive fishing. Scotland can and must be a world leader in fisheries research, and we on these benches are committed to ensuring that it is.
The debate has demonstrated the fact that, at some point, SNP ministers are going to have to get behind Scotland and the United Kingdom in what is the most difficult political negotiation in a generation. The more the SNP talks down Scotland’s science and innovation and research sectors, the greater the impact there will be on international companies that are today looking to invest in our country.
Great countries come together to turn challenges into opportunities, and all of us in the chamber should be working to realise the potential of Scotland’s research and scientific sectors in our Scottish economy.
I support the amendment in the name of my colleague Oliver Mundell.16:51
I welcome the debate and all the contributions from across the chamber, many of which I may well comment on. It reminds me that we want to pay tribute to our research community and our higher education and other institutions that make such an immense contribution to our economy and to developing knowledge and curiosity.
I was just thinking about a company in Forres in my constituency called Aurora Sustainability, which is developing sustainable materials for fish boxes, which are, of course, a big issue with regard to the world’s oceans. One of the two people in the company is Scottish and the other is Italian. We have to remember that aspect of the impact of Brexit on research in this country. The issue is not only about research in our higher and research institutions; it affects people right across Scotland’s economy.
There has been a lot of consensus in the debate around that contribution. There has even been a lot of consensus about the need to protect that contribution from the effects of Brexit. We must all rally round that consensus in the challenging months—potentially years—ahead. It is important that we maintain the ability of our researchers and staff to move back and forth between Scotland and Europe and that we maintain full participation in the European funding programmes.
The SNP and the Scottish Government will today support the Liberal Democrat amendment in the name of Tavish Scott, on the issue of the people’s vote. It is, of course, a democratic outrage that Scotland faces being dragged out of the EU against our will, particularly given what we were told by the no campaign during the independence referendum in 2014. The people of Scotland voted to remain, and another EU referendum would be another opportunity to ensure that the wishes of the people of this country are respected, which is why we will support that amendment. Of course, it would be only an opportunity, not a guarantee, and it would not necessarily protect Scotland from the same outcome as that of the 2016 referendum.
We will also support the Labour Party amendment, which raises the issue of maintaining our participation in horizon 2020. Scotland has punched above its weight and secured €550 million during the current programme. It is important that we have full participation in the success of the horizon Europe programme.
The Conservative Party is being complacent over EU funding. If the withdrawal agreement is signed, the UK will continue to participate fully in EU programmes—and, therefore, Scottish organisations will be eligible to participate in all aspects of horizon 2020—but only until Brexit day. The big question is what happens thereafter. Even in terms of the deal that will be signed, there is a lack of clarity around our participation up to the end of the horizon 2020 programme. Those funds are valuable to Scotland, as they sustain jobs and enable people from Scotland to take part in collaborative research projects across Europe.
The Scottish Government will continue to do a lot of work to highlight the impact of Brexit on the sector and on Scottish research, science and innovation. We have a Brexit forum with the higher education research sector. I will take a delegation to London to meet the UK Government, to highlight the importance of protecting the sector. I will also soon take a delegation from across the sector to Brussels to make a case for continued participation in many of the programmes.
It is a bit rich for Rachael Hamilton to say that the only reason the SNP is discussing this issue is our “grievance agenda”. It is a bit rich for the party that is taking Scotland out of Europe against its will to talk to us about a grievance agenda. The Conservative Party has a brass neck in putting forward its hard Brexiteer Oliver Mundell to champion and lead for the Conservative Party in a debate about a sector that will take one of the biggest hits from Brexit, which he voted for and supports.
It is pretty rich for the cabinet secretary to call me a hard Brexiteer when his colleagues at Westminster refuse to say whether they will back a deal that will prevent a hard Brexit. The SNP is determined to undermine the United Kingdom and to set us back, and now it tells us that it wants to delay Brexit by another year, in order to have a rerun of an argument and a debate whose result it does not respect.
Oliver Mundell accuses the SNP and the Scottish Government of being negative by highlighting this issue in the Scottish Parliament when it is having a negative impact. There is not one student, researcher, lecturer or member of the business community who thinks that we are going to be anything other than worse off with Brexit. Therefore, it is going to have a negative impact and the Scottish Conservative Party should be telling the UK Government about that negative impact to prevent it from happening in the first place.
We need clarity over the settled status of EU nationals in Scotland—that is a big issue in campuses around Scotland. The Brexit secretary, Michael Russell, told us that he visited the University of Stirling and spoke to students there this morning about a report that it has carried out on the impact of Brexit on EU nationals who are studying at the university. The international students there feel anxious over the uncertainty that is being generated by Brexit. They feel that there has been a lack of information, which is a barrier to their plans to stay in Scotland and the UK. They highlighted the value of learning in a multicultural environment and expressed worry that Brexit might threaten that. That is what is happening out there and what the Conservative Party is being complacent about. We have to give certainty as soon as possible to EU students and to researchers and their staff who are from Europe and who are working and contributing to Scotland, because the Conservative Party and the UK Government are not doing that.
Indeed, how can the Conservative Party say that everything will be all right when, in October, the UK Prime Minister said that her proposals will end freedom of movement once and for all in the UK?
The development of new scientific approaches in Scotland has always depended on the free exchange of ideas between researchers regardless of geographical or political boundaries. That international collaboration is extremely important for Scotland and it delivers for our economy.
I met Dame Anne Glover, the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, just a couple of days ago. She handed me issue 22 of Science Scotland—the summer 2018 issue—which is published by the RSE. This issue highlights nine of the most promising young companies in Scotland—nine entrepreneurs who have emerged from Scotland’s higher education sector, in the main, and who are now starting up companies that we have high hopes will deliver jobs, innovation and research breakthroughs for the people of Scotland. Out of the nine entrepreneurs, three are people who have moved from other EU countries to live and work in Scotland and contribute to our country. They are among the people who will face barriers in the future, and that is why the UK Government’s Brexit proposals will cause so much damage to our country. We need mobility and we need to be able to continue to be in these research programmes.
I will finish by reiterating some of the remarks that I made in my opening speech about why this issue is so important to Scotland. I remind members that, compared with the rest of the UK, we employ proportionally more EU academic staff in our universities and institutions; we have proportionally more EU students; we have proportionally more outgoing domestic students participating in Erasmus+; we punch way above our weight in securing EU research funding; and we have a higher rate of full-time research staff from the EU working in our universities. That is why this issue is so important.
To finish, Iain Gray quoted Einstein on stupidity. At this time of year, that reminds me that, in 1910, a general who was asked whether there would be a war in Europe said that it would be “inconceivable stupidity” on the part of statesmen if such a scenario was to arise, and we know what happened in 1914. We will be remembering that this Sunday.
We have a situation now in which the stupidity of politicians in the Conservative Party and the UK Government has taken us to the brink of leaving the European Union, inflicting massive damage on our international reputation, Scottish jobs, research, funding and, potentially, the quality of life of the people of Scotland. We have to stop that from happening, which is why I ask Parliament to back the motion today.