Universities and colleges unite to fight Brexit

Call for return of the Post Study Work Visa for overseas students

Colleges, universities, trade unions and the Scottish Government have agreed a united approach to protect Scotland from the worst effects of Brexit.

The joint statement sets out how they will press the UK government to reintroduce a Post Study Work Visa in Scotland, continue research collaboration and safeguard education relationships with Europe.

Universities Scotland estimate that our universities generate £11 billion gross value every year. The move today by the further and higher education sectors aims to ensure that they can continue to contribute effectively. The sectors will pull together to safeguard Scotland’s global reputation in the arenas of research, science and education, recognising the disproportionate impact Brexit will have on EU staff and students north of the border.

The statement – signed by Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, the UCU, Unison, the EIS, NUS Scotland, The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government –  coincides with a Brexit summit at the University of Glasgow, organised by Further and Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead. 

Mr Lochhead will join representatives from the sectors in Brussels and London in the coming weeks to press their case.

Mr Lochhead said:

“Brexit is the single biggest risk to our colleges and universities, threatening the ability to attract and retain EU staff and students and continue vital research.

“I welcome this joint statement which, amid the current chaos, sends a clear, powerful message that colleges and universities will use their collective influence to press for much needed answers from the UK Government.

“We will also work to retain our historic links with our European partners and ensure they are in no doubt that Scotland continues to welcome EU citizens to study or work here.”

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener, Universities Scotland, said:

“People have been top of our Brexit priorities since the referendum result came through. That’s still the case, whether the UK Government gets a deal or not. More than 4,500 EU national staff in our universities have already had to endure two years of instability with their lives and careers put to the back of the queue. 

“As Brexit reaches the final stages it is really important we continue to emphasise how much our staff and students matter to us and repeat the message that we’ll keep working to secure the earliest guarantees of their rights.

“Europe is such an important partner for Scottish higher education and we want to secure the best possible ongoing relationship, whatever the outcome from Brexit.  These relationships are central to the excellence of our higher education, bringing mutual and wider benefit to Scotland’s society and economy.”

Ken Milroy, Chair of Colleges Scotland, said:

“We welcome the united approach from Scotland’s tertiary education sector as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU approaches. Collectively, we all share the same concerns and it is important that we continue to work closely together to mitigate the effects that Brexit will have on Scottish institutions, staff, students and the wider economy.

“The college sector is eager to ensure that whilst leaving the EU, we contribute to economic and individual prosperity by continuing to deliver high-quality and effective education and training to grow and maintain the skilled workforce required to increase Scotland’s productivity.”


The joint statement commits the organisations to work together to:

  • Safeguard and strengthen Scotland's relationship with the rest of Europe
  • Support Scotland as a destination of choice for international staff and students
  • Call for clarity from the UK Government on future participation in the Erasmus+ programme
  • Call on the UK Government to introduce a post study work route in Scotland to enable universities and colleges to continue to attract and retain talent
  • Support Scottish universities in building on relationships and collaborate with European partners
  • Call on the UK Government to make clear how, in the event of ‘no deal’, research will be supported and how the UK will fully participate in Horizon Europe
  • Support the sustainability and competitiveness of Scotland's tertiary system
  • Use their influence in Europe and beyond to ensure it is widely understood that Scotland remain open and welcoming to EU staff and students
  • Do their utmost to continue to collaborate with our European partners

Scotland has proportionally more EU staff and students than the rest of the UK:

  • Around 9% of all university students are EU domiciled. 27% of full time research staff are EU nationals.
  • EU nationals accounted for more than 75,000 college enrolments between 2012 and 2017

On average, around 10% of Scottish universities’ research income comes from the EU.  Scotland has benefited from 558 million euros from the Horizon 2020 programme, 64 million euros from the Erasmus programme, and an estimated £57 million of funding to our colleges from the European Social Fund.

The Scottish Government has already confirmed that eligible EU students currently studying here or starting a degree this year or next will continue to be eligible for free tuition.

Additional Quotes 

Mary Senior, Scotland Official, University and College Union:

“Brexit has created deep uncertainty and insecurity for EU citizens working in our universities – people delivering the teaching and research that makes our system world class. Isolation from Europe would have huge implications for our ability to attract staff and students from across the globe.

“With the stakes so incredibly high, it is unsurprising that UCU members recently voted overwhelmingly for a fresh referendum on whatever deal the UK government manages to secure.”

Mike Kirby, Scottish Secretary, UNISON: 

“In the massive risk register associated with Brexit, the interests of EU nationals working across tertiary education, and delivering quality public services, require to be front and centre.”

Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland President:

“Education in Scotland is rightly regarded as being among the best in the world. It is part of Scotland’s social fabric, and students studying in institutions across the country expect and deserve the very best in support, opportunities, teaching and facilities.

“The damage Brexit will inflict on student communities, educators across our institutions, research funding and more is becoming clearer by the day. It is vital that students are heard as part of this process if we truly intend to protect the education sector in Scotland and our communities across the country.” 

Professor Dame Anne Glover, President Royal Society of Edinburgh:

“On-going research collaboration with the EU is vital in supporting scientific progress and social and economic well-being. A no-deal or a hard Brexit puts this at risk.

“It is imperative that steps are taken urgently to ensure the UK’s continuing full participation in European research programmes and access to international facilities underpinned by migration arrangements that enable our universities to continue to recruit talented researchers and technicians.


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