UK Government policy has been a major factor in seriously restricting higher and further education institutions from attracting international students to Scotland, says a parliamentary report.
At a time of global boom for international students wanting to study abroad, the UK Government should reintroduce post-study work visas to prevent Scotland’s universities and colleges from falling further behind international competitors in attracting overseas students.
Evidence heard by Holyrood’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee says the impact is being felt not only by the education sector but by the Scottish economy more widely, with more than £250 million in lost income since 2012.
The Committee unanimously recommended that the Home Office Immigration Minister comes to Holyrood to outline what further evidence is needed by the UK Government to bring about a change of policy.
Devolution (Further Powers) Committee Convener Bruce Crawford MSP said:
"A clear consensus has emerged from across the political parties in Scotland and from colleges, universities and business organisations, that the UK Government visa scheme is not delivering for Scotland.
“The Committee considers there is robust evidence that identifies the decision to remove the Post-Study Work Visa scheme as a major factor in the Scottish education sector falling behind competitor countries in attracting international students.
“Without post-study work opportunities our higher and further education institutions are being disadvantaged.
“As a direct result of this policy, domestic business is being deprived of world-class talent, that’s trained and developed in Scotland. Given the demographic profile of Scotland, that’s a position we can ill-afford.
“We need talented graduates to be able to stay on in Scotland so that we can grow our economy and grow our economically active population.”
Mr Crawford added:
“Our committee recommends that a post-study work scheme be reintroduced in Scotland. More generally, this episode highlights yet again, the need for good working relations between the two governments north and south of the border.”
The number of international students studying in Scotland grew between 1- 2% last year. Key competitor countries saw higher rates of growth with Canada at 11%, USA and Australia 10% and Germany 7%.
The Committee also heard evidence both formally and informally regarding the impact on local economies as well as the Scottish economy as a whole regarding Scotland’s relatively poor performance in this sphere. For example, Universities Scotland stated, in written evidence, “we conservatively estimate that Scotland has lost out a potential £254 million of direct additional income since 2012 as a result of the closure of this route”. The reputational damage to tertiary education institutions in Scotland and the UK as well as more generally with regard to international perceptions of the UK was also highlighted in evidence.