The UK Education Secretary has offered a guarantee that international students studying for a four-year degree at a Scottish university will be able to complete their studies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Gavin Williamson, speaking during a visit to the University of Glasgow on Monday, said he wanted the higher education sector north of the Border to remain “brilliantly competitive” by being able to attract the very best of talent.
His comments followed a period of uncertainty in the Scottish university sector after the UK Government initially said the prospect of a no-deal Brexit would see EU students studying in the UK only granted leave to remain for three years - despite Scottish undergraduate honours degrees taking four years to complete.
Holyrood constitutional secretary Michael Russell accused Westminster of being “ignorant or incompetent” over the post-Brexit plan when it was revealed in July.
But Mr Williamson said no student in Scotland would be put at a disadvantage.
“To be absolutely clear, we are going to make sure there is a solution to this,” he said.
“We are not going to be in a situation where Scottish universities will be disadvantaged because of their degree structure. We need Scottish universities to be those brilliantly competitive institutions that are able to attract the very best talent into Scotland in the future.”
He added: “You will never see a student that is doing a four-year degree in a Scottish university told they can’t complete it. We shouldn’t be tolerating any form of scare-mongering that would be the case.”
Mr Williamson added post-study work visas would help Scotland and the UK to attract the “very best” talent to universities.
He said: “By delivering the post-study work visas, this gives every university in Scotland and every university in the United Kingdom the best opportunity to compete on a global scale, attracting the very best talent to Scotland and to the rest of the United Kingdom, making sure we’re at the cutting edge of research and development, making sure that Britain is seen as the place to study and Scotland continues to build on that sense.”
Mr Williamson’s visit to Glasgow came as a survey published by Universities UK found Scotland’s universities are either “very” or “extremely” concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Around half of the institutions that took part in the study said they had seen an impact on their staff, with a third experiencing fluctuating demand from European students.
The Conservative MP said he remained optimistic the UK can secure a deal with the EU.
“We’re not leaving things to chance,” said Mr Williamson.
“This is why the UK Government’s taken such a rigorous approach in terms of contingency planning, making sure that everything works as smoothly as possible.
“I personally, and the Prime Minister, continue to remain optimistic that we will have an agreement and a deal with the European Union and that we will be able to deliver on that.”
He added: “But it’s always wise to prepare for every eventuality, that’s what a lot of universities have been doing in Scotland and most universities have been saying quite clearly they’ve put what needs to be in place in place.
“But the Government is also taking action as well and we’re very confident that we’ll be able to deliver any form of smooth transition that’s required but, equally, very confident that there will be a deal that can be reached with the European Union as well.”