09 Nov 2020
MillionPlus has submitted evidence to UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Select Committee inquiry into universities and Scotland.
In the submission, we emphasise that it is essential to not just maintain the diversity and reach of Scottish universities, but to strengthen them as pivotal players in their regions and facilitators of knowledge creation and exchange. We argue that a major factor holding the Scottish higher education sector back is levels of public investment, which has declined continuously in real terms since 2013, with funding per student now substantially less than in Wales and England. The Scottish higher education system has suffered from structural underinvestment in learning/teaching - as well as research - for some time. We also argue that, as with other nations within the UK, the strength of the research and innovation produced by Scottish universities is to a large extent due to the dual funding approach to research – an approach that should be maintained.
The submission also highlights the challenges approaching in the next few months, as relationships evolve once the Brexit transition period comes to an end. The UK Government has long discussed diverting the investment in EU programmes into a new Shared Prosperity Fund. There remains little information on the shape, structure, and purpose of this new fund. For example, will its value be equivalent to what is spent now, or will it receive additional investment from the UK Government. It is also unclear how the Share Prosperity Fund will be managed. Will it be a reserved matter, or will investment decisions be devolved?
In any new system, it is vital that the needs of Scotland and Scottish universities are factored into all discussions in immigration policy, particularly student and academic visas. Arguably, there needs to be a greater focus on regionality when setting salary thresholds, and in allowing regional variation when considering needs based on skills shortages. There is also strong argument for the Scottish Government allowed the funding that is currently allocated to support EU/EEA students to be retained by the Scottish Funding Council to increase the base price per student and to invest in ‘bottom-up’ strategic initiatives to enhance teaching and learning. Such a move would significantly improve the unit of resource for teaching, without reducing opportunities for Scottish domiciled students.