The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by University of Edinburgh

Executive Summary

International student mobility is of vital importance to the UK and its universities. Some 40% of all postgraduate students attending UK universities are international. Global university rankings use the number of international students as one measure of success and the overall value of international students to the UK in terms of academic, economic, cultural and trade benefits cannot be underestimated.

As international student mobility increases, recent UNESCO Institute of Statistics figures record a recent single year increase in 2009 from 2.96 million to 3.43 million; these proposals threaten the UK’s global position and our ability to remain competitive in the international student mobility market. We are acutely aware that our global competitors stand ready to capitalise should these proposals go forward and we will witness one of the UK’s major export successes of the last 20 years being sent into reverse.

1. Impact of proposals to reduce the number of international students

Whilst the Government seeks to reassure universities that it is committed to ensuring that we are able to attract the ‘brightest and best students’ the current proposals will have a negative impact on international student recruitment and will undermine the UK as a leading destination for international students.

Migration policy that seeks to actively reduce or restrict the flow of academic talent will undermine a cornerstone of the UK’s world class universities who have successfully attracted the ‘brightest and best’ scholarly talent from across the world for centuries. This is deeply troubling as the proposals will negatively impact on the global profile, reputation and opportunities for UK higher education in the global knowledge economy.

The Government, British Council, UK Trade and Investment and a range of related government agencies are all strongly encouraging universities to further develop their international activities yet these migration policy proposals serve to directly undermine this. Education exports have been one of the few success stories for the United Kingdom in the last 20 years and it is difficult to reconcile the logic for compromising this particularly given the very challenging fiscal climate. According to recent studies by the British Council, World Bank and Australia’s IDP international student mobility will continue to experience major growth to 2030, the current proposals will see other nations capitalise on the UK’s approach to student migration.

The recent issues raised at the highest level with the UK government by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Human Resources regarding the detrimental impact of the proposals on future Indian enrolments at UK universities is grave cause for concern. India remains the second largest source nation for international students attending UK universities and these concerns being raised at an intergovernmental level serves to underscore the depth of feeling across the international community regarding these proposals.

2. Impact of proposals on universities in Scotland

The University of Edinburgh welcomes over 6,000 non European students each year, the largest enrolment of students in this category of any Scottish institution and one of the largest in the United Kingdom. Similar to other universities, we have very successfully grown our international student cohort of the highest academic calibre across the last five years and proposals to restrict or reduce this would hinder further expansion, adversely impact on the University, our income and regional economic prosperity. The impact of the current proposals would be to;

- undermine our ability to attract the ‘brightest and the best’ students from across the world

- deny our students a truly global learning, research and teaching environment

- limit our ability to grow and diversify an important source of income

- reduce the competitiveness of our offer in global education market in face of increasing competition from other nations

- negatively impact on Scotland’s postgraduate research base, particularly in key STEM disciplines where there are high concentrations of international postgraduates who support and contribute to vital research

3. Impact of proposals on the wider Scottish economy

International students are of enormous benefit to Scotland’s economy and it should be understood that the impact of the proposals will reach far beyond the education sector. In Scotland alone, recent research by the University of Strathclyde estimates that international students contribute £188m directly to Scottish universities (more than 16% of Scottish universities’ total teaching income) and contribute a further £321m to the Scottish economy in other expenditure.

International students, as temporary migrants, directly support Scottish jobs, industry, tourism and economic growth. If the recruitment of international students is restricted we can be certain that the results will felt across Scotland’s wider economy. It is important to note that international students are ‘temporary migrants’ not ‘economic migrants’ and contribute considerably to the Scottish economy and benefit our exports and global reputation.

International students do not permanently increase immigration levels and, importantly, have no recourse to public funds, pay their own tuition fees, maintenance and have a negligible impact on Scotland’s public services. The benefits of welcoming international students to Scotland are not purely economic as wider Scottish society gains tremendously from living and learning from other nations, cultural engagement and mutual understanding. International students in Scotland also provide invaluable cultural and political benefits serving as cultural and economic ambassadors for Scotland when they return home. It is clear that without international students, many university courses in Scottish universities, particularly in science and engineering, may no longer prove viable. As a direct consequence this will reduce the availability of courses to UK students.

4. How proposals might impact differently upon international students wishing to study on courses in Scotland below degree level, at degree level and post-graduate level

The proposals will, when compared with highly attractive and competitive offers from other competitors, negatively impact on international applicants at all levels of study. Australia’s success in international recruitment has been based on ensuring that students have progression pathways across the national education system. A reduction in international student recruitment for providers below degree level will have direct consequences for Scotland’s colleges and universities. At postgraduate level, where growth is occurring and where most international students enrol (40% of the UK’s postgraduate community is international), the impact will be particularly acute as the removal of post study work and dependents entitlements will ensure that the package offered by Scottish universities will fare poorly when set against our competitors on the global stage.

5. How the proposals in the consultation on post study work might impact upon Scotland

The positive impact on international student recruitment when the Fresh Talent Scheme was introduced by the Scottish government clearly demonstrates the importance of post study work as part of the overall offer of support for international students.

A recent survey conducted by the National Union of Students has revealed that 75 per cent of international students attending UK universities would not have come if they did not have the option to stay and work afterwards.

6. Levels of current compliance within the current system

Evidence clearly demonstrates that universities with Highly Trusted Status, such as the University of Edinburgh, have very high levels of compliance within the student immigration system. It is widely acknowledged that private providers, particularly at sub degree level, have higher levels of non compliance and we welcome any proposals to target effort and resource towards areas of concern and ensure that meaningful benefits exist for 'Highly Trusted' Sponsors within the system.

7. Impact on numbers of those applying to study

It is already clear that the current proposals, which have followed a sustained period of change within the student immigration system, will negatively impact on interest in study in the UK. The concerns being raised by the Indian government recently are an indication as to how seriously key strategic partners for the UK view the proposals and the negative impact they will have on interest in applying to study in the UK at all levels of study.

8. Impact on number of dependants accompanying students

Restrictions on the ability of dependants to accompany international students and take up employment will adversely affect our international recruitment and hinder economic growth. Our global our offer will fare poorly when compared to our competitors, especially the major English language destination countries that stand ready to capitalise on the current UK proposals. Our competitors are improving their package of support for international students and their families and Canada is one recent example who are seeking, like Scotland, to attract and retain international talent.

While most students coming for one-year programmes may not be accompanied by their dependants there are likely to be some who are, and there may cultural and family reasons why some are accompanied. This could discriminate against students from certain countries and also could discriminate against female students. The complete restriction on dependants working will present major difficulties, particularly for postgraduate research students who may be more likely to have dependants and who are here for a longer period. If their dependants are unable to work, not primarily for financial reasons but to do something ‘useful’ with their time in Scotland, they may not wish to come to undertake their research degree. This should be of major concern given the importance of Scotland’s research base and the need to grow high quality international connections and research partnerships.

9. Impact of rules governing working entitlements for students and their dependants

The removal of working entitlements of dependants would seriously impact on recruitment at postgraduate level at a time when other nations are making their offer more attractive to postgraduate students and their dependants. The overall perception in international markets would be that Scotland is an unwelcoming destination for international students and their families despite the demographic situation that Scotland faces and its need to attract and retain the ‘brightest and the best’ international talent.

10. Impact of rules governing working entitlements after graduation

A recent survey conducted by the National Union of Students has revealed that 75 per cent of international students attending UK universities would not have come if they did not have the option to stay and work afterwards.

Closure of this route will have a negative impact on our ability to recruit successfully overseas as our "offer" will be substantially reduced when compared with global competitors. If the route is restricted it should be restricted to Highly Trusted Sponsors, focus on exceptional postgraduate talent and could involve HTS sponsors supporting or continuing to sponsor the student. In the last 3 years at the University of Edinburgh a majority of the new start up companies have been formed by international graduate students creating much needed jobs, inward investment and new business for the Scottish economy.

Regional flexibility in the immigration system should be considered for Scotland given the demographic projections to 2033 by the General Register Officer for Scotland and the need for universities to act as engines driving sustainable growth for Scotland. The Calman Commission recommendation was "while retaining the current reservation of immigration, active consideration should be given to agreeing sustainable local variations to reflect the particular skills and demographic needs of Scotland ".

11. Alternative proposals, not included in the Student Immigration System consultation, which might control the number of international students entering Scotland more effectively.

The student immigration system must deliver much more flexibility, benefit and trust to 'Highly Trusted Sponsors'. Universities are subject to regular, rigorous audit and inspections by national agencies and this should be extended to all those seeking to admit international students whether public or private. Scotland faces a demographic challenge and its ‘highly trusted’ institutions should be given much greater flexibility and benefits within this category to drive economic growth in Scotland. This could be assisted with consideration being given to regional flexibility within the immigration system as outlined in the Calman recommendations.

March 2011