A sizable majority of Scottish academics working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects plan to vote ‘no’ in this week’s referendum citing worries over future UK research funding, a poll for the Times Higher Education has found.
The poll of 1,058 academics and administrators at a range of top Scottish universities, carried out between 7 and 26 August, uncovered a significant majority in favour of remaining part of the UK, but there were interesting wrinkles.
Overall, 54.8 percent said they would vote ‘no’, with 41.2 percent voting ‘yes’ and only four percent ‘not sure’. But when opinions were crunched by subject, the old division between humanities and science reared its head in no uncertain fashion with 69.4 percent of STEM academics stating an intention to vote ‘no’ against the 30.6 percent favouring independence.
For arts, this was almost reversed, with 56.1 percent intending to vote ‘yes’ and 42.9 percent favouring ‘no’.
Reflecting this, the poll found differences between individual universities, with Edinburgh University, Edinburgh Napier, St Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen and Robert Gordon all showing a minority planning to vote ‘yes’ and only Glasgow University being in favour of independence.
The numbers were striking – at arts-oriented Glasgow the ‘yes’ vote was 60.7 percent while in science-oriented Dundee it was a surprisingly low 23.4 percent.
As far as STEM is concerned, the divide seems to be connected to worries over funding, something politicians from both sides have tended to gloss over as detail to be sorted out later.
“We rely on UK charitable donations to carry out our research. We have been given no idea of how an independent Scotland would maintain this level of funding as most of the current funding would be lost if we leave the UK,” the poll quoted Sharon Mudie of the University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences as saying.
On the other hand. “The attitude towards education in Scotland is unique and very positive. I think that with independence this is more likely to be consolidated,” said Chris Seenan from Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Health and Life Sciences.
What is clear is that if it has plans to make up any shortfall through the UK funding systems, the independence cause has not done a good job of communicating that to worried academics who tend to see science as a global rather than national cause.
A closer look at the numbers reveals that different institutions also appear to be influenceed by cultures that tip no and yes voting intentions one way of another. In some cases this appears to be more important that the dominance of science or arts at a particular university.
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