FOREIGN students rate Scotland the top destination worldwide for overall learning satisfaction, a report released today has revealed.
The research, commissioned by British Council Scotland, (BCS) is the first of its kind to examine what is distinctive about Scotland’s higher education system rather than concentrating on academic league tables and research strengths of individual universities.
It found the Scottish ethos of higher education as a public good was a major factor in the rating - unmatched worldwide - given by international students attending universities north of the border.
The findings, which involved interviews with education professionals and students in Scotland, the rest of the UK, Europe, North America, Asia and Africa revealed the Scottish system was regarded as world-class and rated highly not only against the rest of the UK but internationally.
However, despite this, the report noted many international education specialists and students were unaware of how “Brand Scotland’s” higher education differed from that of “Brand UK”.
The report, “A Strategic Analysis of the Scottish Higher Education Sector’s Distinctive Assets”, cited five defining characteristics it said, collectively, are unique to Scotland.
These were the highly “collaborative” and “joined up” nature of the sector helped by its modest size leading to research often being pooled; a Quality Assurance system ensuring teaching was up to scratch and recognising credits gained at college making the sector more “inclusive”; a higher rate of graduates finding employment than the rest of the UK; four-year degrees giving a broader education covering more subjects and a good reputation for securing research grants, pooling research and creating spin-off companies.
The no-fees policy for Scottish and EU graduates was also highlighted.
Data taken from the International Student Barometer feedback project of autumn 2011 showed students also praised the campus environment, safety, social activities and careers advice at Scottish universities.
Dr Lloyd Anderson, the director of BCS, said the findings would be discussed with regional experts in its 110 offices worldwide with the aim of promoting Scotland’s university system.
“This report tells a remarkable story of a national academic system that is world class and highly innovative, a story of which Scotland should be very proud. The nation’s assets include a higher than expected number of world-class universities, as rated by both academic indicators and the students themselves, and a uniquely joined-up, collaborative and inclusive sector. By cataloguing the strengths of Scotland’s higher education system, we can now promote these to the world with confidence, and encourage a curious world to come to Scotland.” Education secretary Michael Russell said: “Scotland’s reputation for excellence in Higher Education was confirmed by the performance of some of our key institutions in the recent QS world university rankings.
“These findings back up what we’ve known for a long time – that students from overseas can enjoy a fulfilling academic experience in Scotland, and that they contribute significantly to student life.
“As the British Council points out, Higher Education in Scotland has considerable differences to the rest of the UK and their work, including the contents of this report, will help us raise awareness of the differences that exist.”
Professor Nigel Seaton, vice-convener of the International Committee at Universities Scotland and principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Abertay Dundee, said: “
“In a highly competitive international market, independent endorsement of the particular strengths of our approach in Scotland is very welcome. As with any good report, it is also valuable for highlighting areas where we need to think about doing even better, notably in extending the benefits of higher education more widely in society.”
The report’s authors, Dr Neil Kemp and Dr William Lawton added: “There is of course room for improvement in any higher education sector; the fact that the report emphasises the positive reflects the promotional mandate in regard to distinctive assets. This report shows that there is plenty to promote.”
Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said: “The report provides a strong case for why international students should study at Scottish universities.
“The report cites our distinct higher education sector, including its tuition-free policy for Scottish and EU students, as a defining characteristic, and the sector’s reputation is certainly bolstered by our strong and active students’ associations, which are an integral part of much that makes Scotland an attractive place for students from outside our borders to study.
“Scotland’s welcoming approach to international students is distinctly different from that of the Westminster Government, which has imposed unnecessary, draconian immigration controls.
“Of course there is always more we can do to further improve our education and international reputation.
“For home students, we still need greater progress in fair access for those from our most deprived communities and ensure fairer student support for students in further education and those studying for postgraduate degrees.
“And international student fees at Scotland’s universities are still entirely unregulated, potentially pricing out all but the richest international students”.