Universities in a dynamic constitutional environment 2012

Universities Scotland does not have a preferred constitutional option. It is for the people of Scotland to decide Scotland’s constitutional future.

We do, however, want to assist the development of constitutional options by identifying issues which, from a university sector perspective, should be taken into account in the detailed development of those options. The debate that will take place up to the 2014 referendum and the potential for constitutional change within Scotland creates a window of opportunity to review the policy and competitive environment in which universities operate at Scottish, UK, European and international levels. It also creates a space for the sector to challenge each political party engaged in that debate to set out how their preferred constitutional future is capable of delivering for Scotland’s universities and their contribution to sustainable economic growth and social and cultural wellbeing.

The links that Scotland’s universities have at Scottish, UK, European and international level are all important to the sector’s success in different ways, and universities will continue to operate in all of these spheres irrespective of the outcome of the referendum.

This paper was developed to assist the proponents of all constitutional options as they consider how the university sector can best be enabled to contribute to the nation’s success. It is equally relevant to the proponents of the status quo, further devolved power, or independence.

Policy outcomes which we would seek under any constitutional settlement include:

  • the sustainable accessibility of Scottish universities to appropriately-qualified learners from Scotland, the rest of the UK, the EU and overseas;
  • the quality and quality assurance of teaching at Scottish universities;
  • the quality, scale and impact of university research and knowledge exchange;
  • the free movement, within the British Isles, EU and internationally, of students, staff and ideas;
  • the maintenance and enhancement of universities’ scope for collaborative teaching and research at Scottish, UK, EU and international levels;
  • taxation regimes which support universities’ success, both directly and indirectly (e.g. in relation to the attraction of research-driven inward investment, taxation of shared services transactions or of philanthropic giving);
  • regulatory regimes which support universities’ generation and dissemination of intellectual property; and
  • sustainable and fair pay and pension arrangements for university staff.

Whatever option is democratically chosen, Universities Scotland will work closely with government to secure policy outcomes which best support the excellence, international competitiveness and financial sustainability of Scotland’s universities and their contribution to the nation’s success.

Key Points:

  • On 18 September 2014 Scotland will vote in a referendum on Scottish independence.
  • Universities Scotland is neutral in the campaign for independence. It is for the people of Scotland to decide.
  • This paper sets out aspects of policy we would wish to see continue under any constitutional arrangement and where constitutional change could present an opportunity for new approaches to support Scotland’s universities. It does so without making any judgement about the case for or against any constitutional option.


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