The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Stow College, Glasgow

How the proposal to reduce the number of international students  might impact upon Scotland:

A good deal of time, effort and energy has been expended to make Scotland an attractive learning destination at all post-school levels.

Successes in this field have made Scotland’s colleges and universities more diverse, challenging and exciting environments not just for the international community but for the home community, too.

It has also meant that the wider community has benefited from the additional commercial revenue which international students generate; accommodation in the private rental market, retailers of food and drinks, clothing etc, entertainment and the hospitality trades, travel and the heritage sectors. There’s a lot to be lost if we reduce significantly the volume of international students who can come to Scotland to study.

The impact, if any, that the proposals might have on universities in Scotland:

We are not qualified to speak on the impact on universities, but we can give some broad indication of the impact on this College. Apart from the intangible but vital contributions which our international students make to the learning and the social environment of Stow College, there are further diminutions which flow from a potential loss of international students in the college. The first is the impact on staff development and the continuous improvement of learning and teaching approaches which comes from the challenge to ensure that all learners are included in the learning process.

Obviously there is a potential loss of revenue to the College; after a number of years of sustained effort to build our international reputation and brand, we are now beginning to reap some financial benefits from that activity. Although it is not the prime purpose of international work, it is an important source of additional revenue to the College at a time of financial stricture on UK public funds.

The impact, if any, that the proposals might have on the wider economy in Scotland;

Comment has been made, under the first heading above about areas which will certainly suffer loss of revenue on a significant scale if international student inflows to Scotland are restricted or stopped.

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

One key feature of college-sector activity has been its innovative role in offering alternative routes to undergraduate degree-level study. Working with many partner universities we are able to offer articulation and progression often to the third year of a Scottish degree programme following successful completion of relevant HNQs.

This has many advantages; for the international student it means that the first two undergraduate years are taken in the context of smaller classes, with close personal support; the colleges who host them accrue all the tangible and intangible benefits noted in earlier responses (above) and for the universities there is a steady flow of well prepared, language-ready students to in-fill into the final years of undergraduate (compensating, in some cases for earlier attrition) and even on into post-graduate study. For the international student, there is also the financial incentive; college fees are usually significantly below those of universities. Therefore the opportunity to undertake two equivalent years in the college environment is a substantial saving for the international learner.

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

Post-study work (formerly the ‘Fresh Talent Initiative’) has proved to be a very popular and powerful marketing tool. Our experience is that many (most) international students are keen to return to their home countries where the combination of a UK education and some post-study work immediately offers gains on the career and remuneration ladder. The loss of the post-study work option – especially at a time when many of our international competitors are enhancing it – would be a major set-back. The challenge is to ensure that those who have taken the opportunity are then identified and can return home.

The level of compliance with the current system

We applied for, and were granted ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status and we have taken action to continually develop and improve our record-keeping, monitoring and reporting systems. Side-by-side we have taken steps to improve the on-going pastoral care we offer our international recruits. We therefore believe that we can maintain a high level of compliance, going forward.

And

1) the number of those applying to study

The numbers of international applicants has increased year-on-year over the past four years. However applying the filters of (i) ensuring that they have appropriate finances to undertake the course and (ii) the visa application process, it is our experience that around 1:4 applicants will actually convert to an enrolment. However the conversion from enrolment to success is very high.

2) the number of dependants accompanying students

Given the kind of market in which we operate – mainly school- or college-leavers of around 18 or 19 years, the issue of dependents is relatively unusual. This is probably different to the experience of HE where there is a higher number of mature post-graduate applicants.

3) the rules governing work entitlement for students and dependants

The rules are clear and appropriate; we would not wish to have our students working longer than is currently permitted since this would have a negative impact on their study time and commitment. Conversely, a reduction would not be well-received either. As well as providing a welcome source of additional income for many students, part-time employment is an opportunity for integration into the wider community, for value sharing and for language skill improvement.

4) the rules governing work entitlement after a course has finished, in Scotland;

Please refer to notes on PSW, above.

And

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

The most important step which could be taken at the moment would be to withdraw the licences of more of the bogus private colleges which act merely as conduits for those seeking back-door entry to the UK employment market. If HTS status was restricted to those who could prove their bona fides, and that is probably mainly in the public sector, we could go a long way to ensuring that only those who genuinely wished to study and had the capacity to benefit from a few years access to UK education and work would benefit.

The global numbers of applicants would be reduced but the contributions which the international student community makes to our life and economy in Scotland could be sustained. Stow College strongly urges those involved in policy-making to give very serious consideration to these issues and not to take ‘knee-jerk’ actions which will be seen in a few years as economically, socially and educationally damaging.

March 2011