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More than a dozen of Scotland’s leading life science academics have warned that the nation risks “sleepwalking” into the loss of key research funding if it votes for independence in September.
In a letter published in Scottish newspapers on Friday, 14 professors from all five of Scotland’s medical schools pointed out that researchers in the nation won a disproportionate share of UK-based research funding.
The letter reflects wider concerns about post-independence funding among researchers and scientists at Scottish institutions, which the academics noted won £257m of funding from UK Research Council grants in 2012-13 – more than 13 per cent of the UK total, compared with Scotland’s population share of more than 8 per cent.
“Growing out of our profound commitment to Scotland are grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly competitive arena of biomedical research,” the professors wrote.
“We contend that Scotland’s research interests will be much better served by remaining within the common research area called the United Kingdom,” they added.
The Scottish government says the funding allocation reflects research excellence and that it would be possible to maintain a common research framework with the remaining UK after independence.
More than 100 supporters of the pro-independence campaign group Academics for Yes argued in an open letter this month that the “real threat” to Scottish research was looming cuts to UK funding.
Independence would make it possible for Scotland to adopt policies that would better promote research while making it easier to attract international students.
“The real threat to research in Scotland’s universities is not independence but continued participation in the Union,” the pro-independence academics wrote.
In their letter on Friday, the life sciences professors complained that Scottish research universities and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the national academy of science and letters, had “felt obliged to remain neutral because they receive Scottish government funding”.
However, the RSE rejected the accusation that funding had influenced its position.
“The RSE . . . must remain neutral to allow it to enlighten and inform – rather than seek to influence – the debate,” it said.