UNIVERSITY principals have blamed immigration changes and the Westminster government’s “hard-line rhetoric” after the number of foreign students coming to Scotland fell by up to 26 per cent from some countries.
• Scottish university body criticise Westminster immigration policy on international students
• Over 25 per cent drop in influx of Indian students in 2011/12
• SNP to raise matter with Home Secretary Theresa May
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) show the number of Indian students at Scottish universities fell by 25.8 per cent in 2011-12 compared with the previous year, while there was a 24.9 per cent fall in those from Pakistan and a 14.1 per cent drop in students coming from Nigeria.
Universities Scotland said the figures were a direct result of the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) decision to end its post-study work route for international students, along with Westminster’s tough talk on immigration.
As of April last year, the post-study work route was closed to new applicants, meaning that those coming from overseas to study in the UK are no longer permitted to stay and look for a job after graduation unless they have a sponsor.
But while there has been a fall in students coming from India, Pakistan and Nigeria, the number of Chinese students has increased by 21.8 per cent, with the numbers of those coming from the United States and Thailand also on the rise.
Overall, the number of non-European Union students coming to Scotland was up 2.2 per cent in 2011-12 against 2010-11.
University leaders said the anomaly was due in part to the amount of media coverage the UK visa changes had received in the Indian subcontinent.
Alistair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “It is deeply worrying to see such steep declines in students from India, Nigeria and Pakistan studying in Scotland. These are important markets for Scottish higher education and countries with which we have long-standing academic relationships.
“It’s very important that the message gets out to these countries that international students are welcome in Scotland. This is not the perception given out by hard-line rhetoric from parts of the UK government.
“It is telling that such a fall occurred only months after the UKBA announced the end to its post-study work route for international students.”
He said the changes put Scottish higher education at “a competitive disadvantage”.
While students from the EU are entitled to free tuition at Scottish universities, those coming from further afield typically pay fees of between £10,000 and £20,000 a year, depending on their course. Those studying for medical degrees can pay around £30,000 a year.
A study by Strathclyde University published in 2009 estimated that international students contribute £188 million to universities in Scotland directly, with a further £321m to the wider Scottish economy.
Later this week, HESA will publish more statistics showing the make-up of students in UK universities, including numbers of those from overseas.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said he would raise the issue of falling students numbers from India, Pakistan and Nigeria with Home Secretary Theresa May after receiving a request for help from Universities Scotland.
He said: “The termination of the UKBA post-study work route – which… enabled international students to help pay off their fees – has left Scotland unable to compete with many of our competitor nations who still offer the feature.”
The UKBA said too many people were using the post-study route to go into low-skilled work, with 50,000 visas for students and a further 9,000 for their dependants issued in 2011.
A UKBA spokesman said: “Latest UCAS figures show applications of students from outside Europe to Scotland’s universities are 7 per cent higher than this time last year … we continue to attract the brightest and best while tackling abuse of the student visa route.”