David Birrell: Learning additional languages will lead to greater global success for Scots

David Birrell, Institute Director, Asia Scotland Institute
David Birrell, Institute Director, Asia Scotland Institute
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As we look forward to 2018 and beyond we have every right in Scotland to claim a leading position in the development of global talent, one that is proud of the past and not afraid of the future. Never has our university sector and support networks for business and culture had such an international reach and with this is an opportunity to create a long-term vision to inspire the next generation of leaders to engage even more at a global level.

The importance of international trade in creating sustainable economic growth and employment is well documented and Scotland is no exception. These opportunities are embedded in government economic development strategies and as global markets become more accessible they should feature more often in business and talent development plans.

Having ambitious targets is one thing, making it happen is another and we are still falling short of our potential in Scotland.

We are however privileged to have developed a variety of different organisations and associations whose focus is to continue to build a greater understanding of new cultures, markets and business opportunities. This includes the Asia Scotland Institute whose national programme promotes a greater understanding of Asia through the sharing of knowledge. We need to ensure that across all such organisations our plans and priorities are more co-ordinated and we continue to develop the opportunities provided by new social media and learning technologies.

Our plans to inspire global talent should start as early as possible in our education system. It is in Scotland’s best interest that young people are attracted to learning languages as it will equip them with communication skills, confidence and a better understanding of international opportunities available to them.

A recent survey highlighted that around 3.5 per cent of GDP is lost annually to the UK economy because of our language skills deficit.

It is welcome news that the new Curriculum for Excellence provides an increased commitment and focus on language learning and targets for 2021 are set to ensure every child is entitled to learn a first additional language from Primary 1 and a second from Primary 5.

The number of people in higher education in Scotland exceeded 235,000 last year as student numbers rose. A critical success factor in this growth is the increasing share of international students which is testament to the world-class reputation of Scotland’s universities.

This globalisation offers a unique experience for both domestic and international students as well as providing Scottish businesses the opportunity to tap into international talent with various language skills and experience of cultural differences in doing business in new markets. We are still, however, losing out in the recruitment of international students because the UK still has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world. As we experience for example the fall in Indian students studying in Scotland by 60 per cent since 2012, we must continue to strive for improvements as our anti-competitive immigration policy is holding us back.

Despite these challenges, Scotland enjoys a unique position in global awareness and we should build on recent successes of hosting major sporting events, our festivals and growing tourism sector. With greater co-ordination and collaboration we have the potential to benefit even more from a global market that is increasingly more accessible and exciting as technology brings future consumers closer together across the world.

At this time of the year we are of course reminded of a truly inspiring global talent. While there are still questions raised about the origin of Santa Claus, we do know that understanding different languages, meeting local market needs and a world class transport system are critical factors for success!

David Birrell, Institute Director, Asia Scotland Institute