Universities Scotland’s Brexit Priorities

As the UK approached the triggering of Article 50 and Brexit negotiations, Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions set out their priorities.

As the representative body of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions we took a decision in 2015 that it was not for Universities Scotland to campaign for a particular outcome in the referendum on membership of the EU. We said we would work with whatever outcome was chosen by the electorate.

Now we have that decision, our role lies in getting policy makers to commit to secure a set of policy and funding outcomes that will enable universities to continue to be successful. That is our focus as the Scottish and UK Government’s approach Brexit negotiations.

This set of priorities was agreed by the Principals and Vice Chancellors of Universities Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions in late January 2017 and published in February 2017.


We want Scotland to be as open as possible to continued close relationships with our European neighbours, as well as being open to the wider world.

We support the exploration of differentiated arrangements for Scotland’s relationship with the EU, as a safeguard in case the UK Government does not negotiate an arrangement with the EU that protects our relationships with our European neighbours.


We want EU students to be able to come to Scotland without visa restrictions.

Students commencing their studies pre-Brexit

It has been helpful to have assurances that EU undergraduate entrants in 2017/18 and 2018/19 will have their fee status protected for the duration of their studies, even after the UK leaves the EU. It was particularly helpful to have this confirmed for 2018/19 entrants in March 2017, well in advance of the formal start of the applications cycle. Universities must continue to be funded to teach these students for as long as their courses last.

Students commencing their studies post-Brexit

Looking beyond Brexit, we would support a funded policy that enabled EU students to be treated more favourably than other international students for fees purposes.  This will help to maintain our relationships with our closest neighbours and will contribute to the diversity of subjects we can offer.

We want to explore with Scottish Government what different models of association between Scotland and the EU could mean for the fees status of EU students, for instance if Scotland became part of the European Economic Area.

Transitional arrangements are important to support the effective management of EU undergraduate students post-Brexit, including management of the impact on particular subject areas if EU student numbers declined.


We support continued Scottish participation in Erasmus+ and long-term funding for study and work abroad opportunities, both inward and outward.


We seek urgent confirmation of the right of EU staff and their dependents who are in Scotland before Brexit to live and work in the UK and to access public services.

We need to be able to attract high-talent  EU staff to Scottish universities post-Brexit. This means that we need a visa regime that supports the attraction of talent from the EU, ensuring that EU staff and their dependents are able to live, work and access public services.


We seek the closest possible research relationship with the EU, supporting our collaborative networks with our European neighbours. Scottish higher education is a world-leader in research and development and it is in the mutual interest of Scotland/UK and European partners that we remain an active and engaged partner in research strategy.

We seek continued participation in European Framework Programmes for research and innovation. Within that, excellence-driven project funding through the European Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme for researcher mobility are top priorities.

We seek continued close collaboration in European research networks whose membership is wider than the EU such as CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory.

There is a need for the Scottish and UK Governments to develop successor initiatives to European Structural and Investment Funds to promote sustainable regional development.


We seek a post-Brexit regulatory framework that sustains close relations with our EU neighbours, for instance through continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications, a common set of rules for EU research collaboration, and EU-wide protection of intellectual property.

Parliamentary evidence

On Tuesday 7 March 2017, our Director Alastair Sim gave evidence to the Education Select Committee about our Brexit concerns and what the UK Government should prioritise for the sector in negotiations.

You can watch his appearance below:

Key Points:

  • EU staff account for 11% of all staff in Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions (4,595 FPE). This rises to 17% of academic staff (3,280 FPE) and 24.8% of research-only staff (1,510 FPE).
  • There are over 13,450 EU undergraduates in Scottish higher education (FPE).
  • EU students account for 15.9% of the postgraduate research students in Scotland.
  • The number of students in Scotland using Erasmus for study and/or work has grown by 50% over the last 7 years to 2,107 students in 2013/14.
  • Scottish HEIs received £94 million of research funding from EU sources in 2014-15. This accounts for 9.4% of the total research funding.ntinue.

Further Reading


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