Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Scottish Academics Set to Reject Call to Break Up UK

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Scottish Academics Set to Reject Call to Break Up UK

Article excerpt

THE survey shows staff are divided by discipline over independence. David Matthews reports

The majority of staff at Scottish universities are set to vote "no" in next week's referendum on independence, and think that remaining in the UK would be better for the country's universities, according to an exclusive survey by Times Higher Education.

But the survey, which was conducted last month and attracted more than 1,000 responses from academics and administrators, also reveals that academic staff are deeply split by discipline over how they will vote on 18 September (see box opposite, "Science v arts").

It shows that the "no" vote has a 13.6 percentage point lead over "yes". This is similar to many polls over the past few months of the general population, although the final result was thrown into doubt this week by a YouGov poll giving the "yes" campaign a narrow lead.

James Naismith, Bishop Wardlaw professor of chemical biology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the pro-union Academics Together, said he believed that opinion on campus against independence had actually hardened, despite growing support for it elsewhere. "The majority of academics discern that, even under the most optimistic scenarios, independence will harm universities," he said.

But Murray Pittock, Bradley professor of English literature at the University of Glasgow and a leader of the pro-independence group Academics for Yes, argued that THE's survey lead for "no" was not as large as would be expected for a group largely drawn from the top social classes who, as polls have shown, are more likely to be pro-union.

He also claimed that opinion on the ground at universities was swinging towards the "yes" campaign, although he accepted that majority support for independence at Glasgow meant that "it is not really easy to say if this is reflected" elsewhere.

Opinion against independence appears to grow stronger when respondents are asked what outcome would be better for Scottish universities, rather than how they would vote. More than 55 per cent of respondents said that remaining in the UK would be the best outcome, compared with 30.2 per cent who said independence would be better. The rest either thought the result would not make any difference, or were not sure.

Although the majority of "yes" voters thought independence would be the best outcome, a quarter thought it would not make any difference to Scottish universities, or were not sure. A handful even said that universities would be better off in the UK.

By contrast, "no" voters were more convinced (96 per cent) that remaining in the UK would be the best option for Scotland's institutions.

Fears about losing access to UK-wide sources of research funding loomed large in responses from those planning to vote "no".

Julian Blow, professor of chromosome maintenance at the University of Dundee, wrote that "Scotland wins a far greater share of research council funding than their 8.4 per cent of the UK population" and other sources such as the Wellcome Trust could cut the amount of grants they award.

"This suggests that an independent Scottish government would have to increase its spend on research grants by 25 to 50 per cent just to maintain current levels," he said.

But many "yes" voters want independence to escape what they see as an undesirable, market-driven higher education culture emanating from England. …

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