I am currently conducting some research with Professor Margaret Arnott from University of West of Scotland on the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities. This is clearly a difficult topic to study at the moment as their remains so much uncertainty around what path the Brexit negotiations will take and subsequently when and how (and even if) the UK will eventually leave the European Union. The Scottish dimension adds an extra layer of complexity – this piece of research sets out some of these complexities in more detail.
Scotland, as a constituent nation of the UK, must follow UK policy on all reserved matters including decisions related to Brexit. But at the same time Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU. Within this debate education is of particular interest as the Scottish education system has always been distinct. With devolution this policy divergence has increased (Keating 2005, 2010) and led to the emergence of the so-called Scottish Approach to Public Services (Housden, 2014; Elliott, Forthcoming).
Policy divergence is exemplified with the funding of higher education for whilst undergraduate tuition fees were introduced in the UK in 1998, they were soon abolished in Scotland by the Scottish Government who have remained resolutely opposed to tuition fees. This policy has become immortalised in the “Salmond Rock” which sits in the grounds of Heriot-Watt University which is inscribed with his statement that “the rocks will melt with the sun before I allow fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students”.
Although the free higher education policy is seen to be a way to extend educational opportunities it has been found that maintenance grants have declined since this policy was introduced (Hunter- Blackburn 2016) and that students from less affluent backgrounds have suffered as a result. Furthermore the approach to funding of Scottish universities, and the decline in international students following UK Government changes to immigration rules, have contributed to an increasingly difficult financial environment. In 2016/17, 9 of Scotland’s 19 universities reported a financial deficit (compared to just one in eight in England) (HESA 2018).
In relation to Europe, the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities may be far greater than on universities in the rest of the UK. Scottish universities have benefited €558m from the Horizon 2020 programme and €64m from the Erasmus programme (Universities Scotland 2018). In total European funding sources account for 9.4% of all research funding in Scottish universities (£94m) in 2014-15 (ibid 2018). Also, Scottish universities have proportionally more EU staff (11% of all staff, 17% academic staff and 25% of research staff) and students (9%) than the rest of the UK (ibid 2018).
The Scottish university sector faces many financial challenges. Despite education being a devolved policy there are many related issues, such as immigration policy and foreign policy, that remain reserved. Thus, the financial sustainability of universities has become precarious both as a result of Brexit but also the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policies. It is unclear how Scottish universities will cope with the potential effects of Brexit but whatever happens this issue has raised significant issues in relation to the devolution settlement.
This will be discussed at the following conference: https://www.regionalstudies.org/opportunities/call-for-papers-the-impact-of-brexit-on-regions-in-europe-essca-angers-france/
Arnott, M.A. (2017) “Jigsaw Puzzle” of education policy?: nation, state and globalised policy making, Scottish Educational Review, 49 (2): 3-14. Available online here.
Elliott, I.C. (Forthcoming) The Implementation of a Strategic State in a Small Country Setting: the case of the ‘Scottish Approach’, Public Money and Management.
Housden, P. (2014) This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland, Public Policy and Administration, 29 (1): 64-74. Available online here.
Hunter Blackburn, L. (2016) Equity in student finance: Cross-UK comparisons, Special Edition: Widening Access to Higher Education in Scotland, Scottish Educational Review, 48(1): 30-47. Available online here.
Keating, M. (2005) Policy convergence and divergence in Scotland under devolution, Regional studies, 39 (4): 453-463. Available online here.
Keating, M. (2010) The Government of Scotland: Public Policy Making after Devolution, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Purchase here.
Universities Scotland (2018) Universities Scotland’s Brexit Priorities, accessed online at: https://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/publications/brexit-priorities/