Gerry McCormac: Post-Brexit stability a must for foreign students and graduates

The UK's decision to leave the EU has created economic uncertainty, re-ignited debate on UK constitutional issues and resulted in anxiety for EU nationals who live and work here.

Around 29,000 international students call Scotland home
Around 29,000 international students call Scotland home

Like many others, I was disappointed with the referendum result: because of the insularity it implies, the negative message it sends to the rest of the world and the difficulty it creates in promoting the UK and Scotland’s interests internationally. Securing a Brexit deal that protects the economy, maintains people’s rights and ensures stability for our colleges and universities is paramount.

More than 29,000 international students call Scotland home and contribute an estimated £312 million to the economy annually. It is crucial that we remain a destination of choice for students, businesses and research partners and continue to benefit from the resultant significant investment levels.

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As a research-intensive university, the international academics we attract greatly enrich our economy and cultural diversity. We’re proud that so many choose Scotland to live, work and study and this should not change as a consequence of Brexit. Our fellow EU nationals have created collaborations and new knowledge that must be secured in negotiations so that our vibrant research community can continue to flourish.

As a nation, we have rallied to support those who choose to make Scotland their home. In March, the Scottish Government delivered reassuring news that eligible EU students enrolling in Scottish universities for 2018/19 will receive free tuition.

We still desperately need to convince the UK government of the value of post-study work visas and the need to reconsider the migrant status of international students. The post-study work visa, first introduced in Scotland, was scrapped in 2012 and this has damaged the UK’s reputation as a positive study destination.

A recent Universities Scotland poll suggested 83 per cent of Scots think it is better for international students to work for a period of time in the UK when they graduate, rather than returning home immediately.

It is absurd to prevent qualified international students who have studied in Scotland from working here, and from reinvesting the knowledge they have gained to contribute to our economic growth.

Conversely, if students are denied the opportunity to take part in overseas student exchange programmes, such as Erasmus+, they and we will miss out.

Post-Brexit, we need continued access to these initiatives that help our young people gain the rich life and work experience that will equip them to be global citizens and leaders. To thrive post-Brexit, universities need the ability to collaborate closely with those from around the world.

Let’s make it clear to the international community: Scotland welcomes the world.

Professor Gerry McCormac is principal and vice-chancellor at the University of Stirling and vice-convener of Universities Scotland