No to independence, yes to a wealth of nations

No to independence, yes to a wealth of nations

It is official: Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. There will be no independent Scotland for the foreseeable future. Yesterday’s referendum saw 55% of the voters choose ‘No’. A blow for Scottish Independence; a triumph for the ‘United’ Kingdom; an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to capitalise on the power promises made by Westminster and take greater control of the nation. But how will this historical outcome affect international education?

The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may hold true for higher education north of the English border. Scotland currently has more world class universities per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Boasting 19 world class institutions, and attracting more than 40 000 international students from over 180 countries, Scottish higher education has much to be proud of.

Top-notch research

Scotland’s academic research is universally recognised as excellent, and currently, Scottish universities attract about 12% of the UK’s £2bn-a-year research council grants and project funding. For Edinburgh University, for example, roughly 30% of its external funding comes from UK sources. If the outcome of yesterday’s momentous referendum had swung the other way, to an independent Scotland, senior academics and university executives believe that Scotland’s best-known universities would lose access to billions of pounds in funding and joint projects supported by British research councils. Not only that, researchers feared an exodus of entire departments due to the ensuing budget cuts in education. The brain drain that we speak of in the Global South or Eastern Europe, could also have become a reality for Scotland if independence was granted.

Now that Scotland remains firmly attached to the United Kingdom, the fear of research funding cuts has abated. So too has the fear of students from the UK flocking to Scotland in pursuit of the free education that would most likely have awaited them upon Scotland’s independence (European law states, it is illegal to discriminate on fees between students from different EU member states, and currently, students from the EU are exempt from paying tuition fees). So, the status quo remains, and Scottish universities will most likely continue to enjoy their world renowned status in education and research for some time to come, with thousands of international students choosing to travel to Scotland for part of their education.

Beyond borders

The results of the referendum coincide with the final day of the 26th Annual EAIE Conference, a time when international educators from across the world gather together in one European city to discuss the latest developments in the field and drive the internationalisation of higher education forward. International education itself is about transcending barriers, borders and cultures. It is about acknowledging our individual strengths, sharing those strengths and learning from others to create a more accepting, educated and empowered global society. It is perhaps through this lens that we should view today’s outcome: Scotland will never lose its unique heritage, its strong cultural roots, and its innovative outlook; yet as part of a ‘United’ Kingdom, it can benefit from the support, shared resources and greater stability that come from belonging to a common union, one which has no enforced borders, one which works together for the greater good of all.

Next year’s EAIE Conference will take place in Scotland’s cultural capital and leading research hub, Glasgow. Ian Thomson, Head of the International Office at the University of Glasgow thinks Scotland is the ideal choice for the EAIE Conference next year: “Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and over the past few years has become well recognised as one of Europe’s leading conference cities. Given that Glasgow has the highest ratio of students to population of any UK city, it made perfect sense to award the EAIE Conference to Glasgow.” There is much for participants to look forward to next year: “Delegates will have the opportunity to visit some of the UK and Scotland’s top higher education establishments, including one of the four ancient universities of Scotland, two of Scotland’s more recent universities, one of the world’s leading art schools, and not forgetting Scotland’s Royal Conservatoire of Music.”

The encompassing conference theme will be ‘A wealth of nations’. Perhaps it is exactly this ‘wealth of nations’ that we should be celebrating today, in light of the momentous decision we’ve all just been witness to.