Conservative spokeswoman for young people Liz Smith and Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur spoke out against the impact of some immigration policies on overseas students coming to Scotland.
Ms Smith and Mr McArthur commented following criticism of the inclusion of international students in overall net migration figures. Critics of the system believe that moves to limit incoming student numbers for the sake of long-term migration figures put a valuable export market – higher education – at risk.
Ms Smith said she had raised the issue with Home Secretary Theresa May and universities minister David Willetts, telling MSPs she hopes it is “not too late for the Home Secretary to pay attention” to the concerns of universities.
Mr McArthur said both he and UK Business Secretary Vince Cable have spoken out against the inclusion of students in the UK government’s net migration target.
Ms Smith told MSPs it was “not helpful to say that everything about immigration policy and everything else about coalition politics is bad for our universities, that is completely untrue”.
But she said universities were “absolutely right to be concerned about the lack of flexibility within the timescales for the award of visas and, just as importantly, the lack of transparency when it comes to visa refusals”.
She added: “It is these two issues that have been so central to the concerns of many of the universities of Scotland since they leave doubt in the mind of students and staff about post-study work arrangements, and they can hinder future planning and investment.
“I hope it is not too late for the Home Secretary to pay attention to the extent of the concern, including that raised within six Westminster committees, that international students should not be included in the UK government’s net migration target.
“Because it is simply not acceptable that our post-study work arrangements are not on the same competitive basis as it is for countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”
She said Universities Scotland “make a very strong case” for extending the length of time international graduates could stay in the country to try to find a job.
Mr McArthur said: “This issue matters and it matters that we find ways to enable our universities to deliver greater success in future against a backdrop of increased competition from a host of other countries.”
The Scottish Government’s white paper on independence sets out an ambition for a controlled immigration system based on particular needs for Scotland. It focuses on attracting students to stay and work in the country after graduation by re-introducing a post-study work visa.