Scottish universities face losing their world class status without the level of funding they have enjoyed from the EU, warns a St Andrews vice-principal.
Professor Brad MacKay also said they will suffer a decline in performance if Brexit makes it harder to attract the best international talent.
Criticising the UK Government’s immigration policy, he said including students in net migration figures “makes no sense” and the restrictions on post-study visas “sends a message to the world that the UK is turning inward”.
Professor MacKay said: “The University of St Andrews is successful because of its people.
“In terms of staff, we recruit the best from around the world.
“If it becomes more difficult to recruit and retain top-talent, either because of a restrictive immigration regime in the UK, or if EU nationals no longer feel welcomed in the UK, it will have an impact on the universities’ performance and the standing of the higher education sector more widely in the world.”
A third of St Andrews’ staff and 12% of its students are EU nationals. Nearly one-fifth of its research cash comes from Brussels sources.
Professor MacKay added: “If a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario arises and UK, including Scottish, universities are left out of future EU research and innovation funding programs, it will put pressure on the UK and Scottish governments to ensure that funding is replaced from domestic sources at precisely the time that other countries are ramping up investment in their universities, creating much more competition, if they are to ensure that Scottish universities remain amongst the best in the world.”
But he insisted St Andrews is “well positioned to navigate the challenges posed by Brexit and to continue to thrive into the future”.
A Dundee University spokesman said it is “difficult to plan for something which remains so undefined”.
“We are welcoming more international students than ever, and we want to increase that activity but to do so we need to see the UK Government ensure there is a system which is accommodating to potential international students, from the EU and beyond, including attractive post-study options,” the spokesman said.
Professor Nigel Seaton, Abertary University’s principal, said Brexit poses a “significant challenge”, but they are “cautiously optimistic” they will still be able to recruit and train EU staff and students.
Professor Seaton added: “The prospect of UK universities losing full access to EU research funding in the event of the country leaving the single market remains a matter of concern.”