We should be encouraging international students

FOR a small country, Scotland punches above its weight when it comes to the international reputation of its universities – not just in terms of the world-class research with which they’re involved, but also in terms of the learning and teaching experience they deliver.

At the University of Edinburgh, international students represent more than 40 per cent of the student community. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
At the University of Edinburgh, international students represent more than 40 per cent of the student community. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

To maintain that international reputation we need to stay one step ahead when it comes to attracting the brightest students. At the University of Edinburgh, international students represent more than 40 per cent of our student community and come from more than 140 different nations. Not only do they contribute to the vibrancy of the city and the exchange of knowledge, they also have a big impact on our society and economy, taking part in our student volunteering programmes and contributing to local communities.

Historically, many have chosen to stay on after study and use the knowledge they have acquired at university to do great things within Edinburgh, Scotland or the wider UK. Edinburgh University has one of the best records of company formation of all UK universities, particularly for student-led spinouts, and a high proportion have international students or graduates involved in them.

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Many of our students go on to become partners with – and in a sense ambassadors for – Scotland, as well as leaders in their own countries. We know there is a link between increased levels of trust in a country and an increase in a person’s inclination to do business with, study in or visit that country.

And yet despite all the benefits they bring, we are in danger of dissuading them to study in Scotland. This is not because of what our universities offer them, but because their right to remain here and work once their studies are complete has been taken away following a decision by the UK government to abolish the post-study work visa in 2012.

The Scottish Government’s post-study work group has now called for the reintroduction of that visa and that is a call we wholeheartedly endorse.

Scotland would be so much the poorer without the vital contribution that our international students make, and we should be looking to encourage more, rather than fewer, to come.

• Professor James Smith is vice-principal international at the University of Edinburgh