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Pete Wishart: Scottish universities need support to continue overachieving

The Scottish Affairs Committee made a number of recommendations for universities (David Cheskin/PA)
The Scottish Affairs Committee made a number of recommendations for universities (David Cheskin/PA)

The UK Government’s response to a Westminster committee’s suggestions for Scottish universities has been “disappointing”, its chairman has said.

Pete Wishart, chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said the Government’s response to its report left questions unanswered.

In May last year, the committee published a report which set out what they described as a “crunch time” for Scottish higher education institutions as they dealt with the impact of Brexit and coronavirus.

Among its recommendations was expanding the Turing Scheme to fund international students coming to the UK.

MPs expenses
Pete Wishart has hit out at the UK Government’s response to his committee’s report on higher education in Scotland (PA)

In a response to the report sent to the committee last month, Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said the Government was committed to international, educational mobility and would evaluate the impact of the Turing Scheme’s first year.

Mr Wishart said: “Scottish universities are a regular feature in league tables of the top UK universities, attracting talent from all around the world.

“However, as our committee identified last year, losing out on academic and research partnerships as a result of Brexit and sky-high visa fees are significantly damaging our ability to continue to attract the brightest and best.

“If Scottish universities are to continue punching above their weight, they need appropriate support from Government.”

He continued: “The UK Government’s response to our report contains many words but says very little.

“There is no good reason why Scottish representation is lacking within decision-making at UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), and making the UK a more competitive place for international students and academics to come is surely only a positive move. Yet the Government does not seem to agree.

“It is baffling that this disappointing response to our committee’s report took 10 months.

“This is a priority area for this committee, and I hope the Government reflects on the points we have made and responds to our follow-up letter more swiftly.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s universities are world-leading institutions and we are very pleased the UK is able to support them in a number of ways, from facilitating visas for international students to substantial research funding.

“The UK Government’s Turing scheme is offering tremendous global opportunities for Scottish students.

“Appointments to the UKRI Board are made via open competition on grounds of experience and skills. Board members work collectively for the benefit of the whole of the UK.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and other partners as we continue to support Scotland’s higher education sector.”