Migration cap will dumb down universities

UNIVERSITY principals have warned Scottish Secretary Michael Moore that standards could drop because of proposed immigrations limits.

The UK government plans to place an annual limit on the number of skilled and highly skilled migrant workers coming to the UK from outside the European Union. A temporary cap was introduced in June by Home Secretary Theresa May.

Professor Bernard King, convener of Universities Scotland and principal of Abertay University, has now written to Mr Moore to point out 20 per cent of staff and 11 per cent of students in Scotland are now from outside the UK.

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He says that overseas students contribute 270 million to Scottish universities plus 230m to local economies in off-campus spending and, in the light of budget cuts, further restriction would create a "perfect storm" of financial challenges to the sector.

Critics have warned that strict caps on overseas academics and students would have prevented some of the country's most famous scientific discoveries taking place on British soil.

Only one of the three scientists who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, Francis Crick, was British. James Watson was American and Maurice Wilkins was from New Zealand.

Using figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and research carried out at Strathclyde University, Professor King said principals were "gravely concerned" at plans to restrict student numbers.

He said: "Overseas student contribute an estimated approximate half a billion pounds to the Scottish economy, including 270m income to universities and 230m off-campus expenditure, supporting over 3,000 jobs in the wider economy. This is essential both to universities and to Scotland.

"We cannot stress too strongly how damaging it would be to Scottish universities and the Scottish economy if the current financial challenges facing universities, in the light of budget cuts, were compounded by further restriction on the recruitment and employment of overseas students."

The letter criticises the Migration Advisory Committee for saying the UK's immigration policy can only be achieved by cutting net migration "under the study and family routes".

Des McNulty, Labour education spokesman, warned an "arbitrary cap" would damage Scottish universities. He said: "It is vital Scottish universities are able to hire the best staff in an increasingly international labour market for the top researchers.

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"Our universities are world renowned, but to continue to be world class you have to be able to recruit the best from across the world.Universities Scotland make a good case against this Con-Dem policy, and I strongly urge the coalition to listen to what they have to say."

Fiona Hyslop, external affairs minister for the Scottish Government, said she was deeply concerned about the damaging impact an annual limit would have on the Scottish economy.

She said: "We need a flexible approach to immigration. A regional variation is the best way to support Scottish business and economic growth."

She added: "Recruitment of international students is integral to Scottish universities' contribution to our economy, cultural and social development, as well as our international profile."

The Home Secretary said a crackdown on overseas students would target those below degree level, saying that more than half are in this category and a quarter disappear once they are in the UK.

Also there will be 1,000 places for people each year of exceptional scientific, academic or artistic talent.