Scotland’s higher education sector has called on the Scottish Secretary to help it make the case for changes to UK immigration policy for international students.
Universities Scotland, the body which represents the sector, wants to ensure that those coming to Scotland to study can remain after graduation to help meet the skills gap.
Convenor Professor Andrea Nolan urged David Mundell to support a change in policy ahead of his appearance at Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee on Wednesday as part of its inquiry into Scotland’s place in Europe following the Brexit vote.
Professor Nolan said: “As we prepare for exiting the European Union, we are being advised to take the opportunity to focus our interests more broadly than Europe, to build even more relationships across the world.
“If universities are to take this as an opportunity and make a bigger contribution to the UK’s export economy in doing so, we need to see positive and meaningful change on immigration from the UK Government so we can restore our competitiveness in the recruitment of international students.
“Universities are a key sector of the Scottish economy, contributing over £7 billion every year.
“We call on the Scotland Office and UK Government to make the economic decision to support universities to be competitive, to support them to grow the value of their exports, as it would any other sector of the economy. We need the UK Government to bring forward positive changes to its policy on student immigration.”
Commenting on reports that the UK Government’s planned consultation on immigration may aim to reduce international student numbers entering the UK by half, she added: “University leaders are deeply fearful of any proposals to further restrict the flow of international talent into our universities.
“A move to limit international student numbers would come at great cost to our universities and would compromise the kind of education we want our home students to experience; it would take a chunk out of Scotland’s export industry and put jobs at risk.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We welcome genuine students from overseas and we are looking to see if we can strengthen the system to ensure Scotland’s and the UK’s world class universities continue to attract the brightest and best.”