The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Ayr College

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

Scotland has an ageing population and needs an inflow of younger people to help in both the workplace and the economy. Scotland’s Colleges had 1495 international students in 2008/09, bringing a wider diversity of culture to Scotland and, in the case of Ayr College, to South Ayrshire where minority ethnic population is under-represented. International students bring an economic advantage to Colleges and the community in times of economic downturn.

In a semi-rural economy, international inward migration is not as prevalent as in the city. This is a disadvantage to the local student body in terms of limited opportunity for integration, sharing of cultural diversity and, as a result, a narrowing of the majority student experience and knowledge. A decline in international students will also have a significant effect on the local economy from rented accommodation to general subsistence.

2 The impact, if any, that the proposals might have on Universities/Colleges in Scotland;

While the number of international students attending Colleges is smaller than those attending Universities, the reduction in numbers would have a similar proportional effect. Colleges are, in the main, a melting pot of those who will study for HNC/D with the intention of going to University, those who are increasing their skill base while employed and those who are looking to improve their employability. The majority of students study in their local College and are conversant with the local cultures and stereotypical attitudes of the surrounding area. With the inclusion of students from other countries colleges are able to open up a new vista for both staff and students, in terms of cultural, religious and dietary diversity.

A secondary but equally important factor is in the present economic climate. In Ayr College, we have students who bring in a not inconsiderate extra income which is in line with the Scottish Funding Council’s corporate plan to internationalise Colleges and Universities and to make up funding shortfalls.

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

If the proposal to require students to return to their country of origin to reapply for a visa to attend University is implemented, this will have a devastating effect on students applying to HNC/D courses and University. The cost of flights home, added to the non-returnable cost for the visa application in country is an exorbitant price to pay in a competitive market.

The visa application process is already time consuming, stressful and costly procedure, overly-complicated and extremely slow. Numerous additional applications for extension will slow down an already bureaucratic system. Extremely competitive countries such as Australia, Canada and the USA allow students to apply for extensions while in the country they are studying. If one considers that many students are financed by their families for fees and living costs, the additional cost of air travel to renew their visa my well be the deciding factor to apply to another country. Students who remain in country during academic holiday periods are contributing to the local economy, integrating into society and benefiting both themselves and the community they help to enrich. Furthermore, Government intentions to restrict international student visas in the UK will deter prospective students from making an initial application when their likelihood of success is lower than an application to other countries such as Australia and Canada.

4 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;

No restriction should be placed on the level of course. Colleges should be allowed to sponsor HNC/D and pathways to degree level courses which act as a valuable asset to both Colleges and Universities. Due to the increase in international students, greater curriculum cohesion has been developed in particular with Universities in joint marketing, curriculum design and CPD which further develops the Governments desire for a unified system.

The Scottish HNC/D is a valuable qualification which is highly regarded in many countries in its own right. Many students gain employment in their own country with this qualification contributing to their country’s economy while supporting their families.

Lower level vocational courses are also valuable to countries most often applying to Colleges, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. These countries are still developing their infrastructure and therefore benefit from the skills a developed country can offer them. A large number of students study English language prior to progressing to other courses enabling them to achieve better results. Foundation courses also allow Colleges to be feeder institutions fostering recruitment to Universities through our expertise in study skills and level seven and eight tuition.

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

The closure of the post-study work route will have a hugely detrimental effect on student recruitment. The prospect of gaining international experience in the work place is extremely important for international students to gain employment in their own country. This would also lose Scotland a competitive edge when marketing. Australia and Canada are both aggressive marketers and as such would capitalise on their ability to offer post-study work visas. The demography of South Ayrshire by 2015 is predicted to increase to 26.6% in the 65-70 age groups and a decline of more than 12% in the 16-18 range. The growth of post-study work and inward migration is therefore vital to the Ayrshire economy.

The success of the Fresh Talent initiative resulted in a number of HND students choosing to work for 2 years prior to attending University. This allowed them to consolidate their practice, contribute to the labour market, gain valuable experience and help to grow the economy of Scotland. To close post-study work would critically damage the credibility of HND qualifications and Scotland as a destination of choice for international students. Scotland has a valued reputation for a high standard of education; however international students are looking for value for money and as such will be attracted to competitor nations such as Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany which continue to offer graduates the flexibility to work after graduation.

Our experience has shown that students accessing the post study work visa after HND use this to replenish their funds to support their studies at University. Any income gained during this time is reinvested into Scotland as the student completes their degree programme.

Existing students feel that they are being "cheated" out of a professional European style work experience which would have dramatically improved their employability, career prospects and earning capacity on returning to their home country.

March 2011