Scottish universities ‘need to play bigger part on world stage’

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell warned last week that Scotland's universities are gaining an international reputation for government interference and suppression of critical thought. Picture: TSPL
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell warned last week that Scotland's universities are gaining an international reputation for government interference and suppression of critical thought. Picture: TSPL
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THE Scottish Government is being called on to do more to boost the international profile of Scotland’s colleges and universities.

Action to boost research and help more Scottish students to study abroad is being encouraged in a report by Holyrood’s European and external relations committee.

Cuts limit on the number of PhDs, despite PhD students driving the research pipeline”

REPORT

It comes after Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, warned last week that Scotland’s universities are gaining an international reputation for government “interference” and “suppression of critical thought” over controversial plans to shake up their governance.

There are about 28,500 international students at Scottish universities, contributing about £377 million a year in fees, as well as 17,000 European students.

But universities have warned there are a number of barriers to their international engagement, including funding, the low number of Scottish students going abroad and immigration policy.

Today’s report, entitled “Connecting Scotland: how Scottish organisations engage internationally”, cites major concerns from Dundee University.

“Cuts in public funding for research meant Scotland lagged behind its competitors, and put a limit on the number of PhDs that could be offered, despite PhD students driving the research pipeline,” the report states.

“Universities told the committee that £14 million was cut last year which universities perceived as a self-defeating cut as every £1 of funding generated by Scottish universities generates another £2 in competitive research grants.”

Research spending in Scotland is currently 0.6 per cent of GDP, compared with 0.9 per cent in the US and France.

At colleges, the number of EU and European students has plummeted by about 75 per cent to just a few hundred. International student numbers are also down as a result of changes to the post-study work visa.

Colleges are now calling for a more “strategic” approach from the Scottish Government, such as the system in Northern Ireland where support is given to support their European and international presence. The report concludes that there is “considerable potential” to build further on the international engagement activities of universities and colleges in Scotland and calls on ministers to consider how they could support this.

“There are manifold benefits that would derive from expansion of international activity, including significant economic, social and cultural benefits,” it adds.

The Scottish Government is now being urged to consider concerns over public investment in research and support for higher education institutions more generally.

The reintroduction of the post-work study visa should also be pursued say MSPs, as the lack of opportunities to remain in the UK following graduation make it far more difficult to attract international students.

The SNP government says meetings have already been held with the UK government at a ministerial level on the matter, but that the Home Secretary made it clear at that meeting that the UK government has “no plans to reintroduce post-study work visas”.

But ministers in Scotland have now established a cross-party group, including representatives from the education, student and business interests, in order to look into the issue surrounding the post-study work visa issue.