Scottish independence: Academics fear a university brain drain of country's best scientists

Institutions could lose billions of pounds of funding for research

Scottish universities could face a brain drain of some of their finest scientists if the country votes for independence, a number of leading academics fear.

They voiced concerns that the institutions could lose billions of pounds of funding for research.

Several senior scientists have already been contacted by English universities because of the prospect of a yes vote in the referendum on 18 September, sources told The Guardian.

Professor Richard Cogdell, director of Glasgow University’s Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, said: “I have had contact with staff who have said 'if it's a yes vote, then I would be looking to leave.'"

Professor David Weller, director of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, said four-fifths of the centre’s work was carried out with cancer charities and other researchers in the rest of Britain.

“There's just no way if Scotland was a separate country that kind of arrangement could be sustained. There are huge concerns in the area I work in,” he said.

And Professor Jim Naismith, head of the biomedical sciences research complex at St Andrews University, said: “There will a drift away [of expertise]. It will start slowly but there will be a clear drift.

“It's not just the people who leave, we won't be able to bring people in from outside.”

A source close to Mike Russell, the Scottish education secretary, told The Guardian that the academics’ concerns were unfounded.

“We have already made clear that in all circumstances we will guarantee that research funding is maintained during and after Scotland's transition to independence,” he said.

And Dr Steven Watson, a Glasgow University mathematician who helped found the Academics for Yes group, said research spending was being used as a “political football” and pointed to international collaboration within the European Union.

“The UK certainly doesn't have any barrier to dealing with the EU, why wouldn't the UK choose to do that with a nation [Scotland] which is far closer and has far more affinity with,” he said.