The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Engineering Policy Group Scotland

Executive Summary

0.0 Scottish academia and the Scottish science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry are extremely concerned about the recent developments in the Borders Agency policy to reduce and constrain the recruitment into the UK of highly skilled and talented individuals. This is having a major impact both on higher and further education, and on the success of critical recruitment. The consequence of this will be a damaging constraint on the size and stature of Scottish universities, and the success and growth of high-technology industrial businesses in Scotland.

1.0 How the proposals to reduce the number of international student might impact upon Scotland

1.1 The Engineering Policy Group Scotland (EPGS) discussed at its March 2011 meeting the reorganisation of the priorities of the immigration department and the consequent UK Borders Agency reduction in the intake of highly skilled individuals into industry and our higher education establishments. EPGS observe that this is now having a serious impact on several key sectors of the economy.

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

2.1 The Scottish universities rely heavily on international student recruitment for Undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral study programmes. This is particularly the case for engineering departments where, for example, a typical engineering MSc programme is likely to have 90% of its students recruited from overseas. If the number of the student places filled is reduced through tighter immigration rules the universities will have to balance their lost revenue by closing selected courses and reducing their overall staff complement. This may mean this will further erode the international standing of UK higher education institutions. EPGS note that the Scottish universities offer a particularly high level of undergraduate and postgraduate training to individuals who already possess and demonstrate a high proficiency in the English language which distinguishes them from other lower level training and language agencies. It must be appreciated that a very high proportion of these university based students do return overseas after completing their university education in the UK.

2.2 According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings there are 29 UK universities in the top 200, 24 from England and 5 from Scotland:

§ 40 University of Edinburgh

§ 103 University of St Andrews

§ 128 University of Glasgow

§ 140 University of Dundee

§ 149 University of Aberdeen


2.3 The universities are also being restricted in their employment of non EU foreign nationals into both academic and Post Doctoral research staff positions. Academic staff recruitment is an international activity and, to maintain a competitive profile from an international perspective, the universities have to be able to recruit and retain the highest quality individuals. Further, to deliver and publish high quality research results and initiate the associated knowledge transfer, the universities must be able to recruit, from an international market, the highest quality of Post Doctoral researchers to staff their short term 1-3 year research contracts. Failure to recruit individuals of sufficient stature and technical ability will result in Scottish universities failing to meet their research objectives and put the universities at a serious disadvantage in EU and other international collaborations.

2.4 In the complex balancing act that universities have to perform these days in juggling their finances the income derived from overseas student recruitment is frequently employed to cross-subsidise less economically viable sections of the academic enterprise. So the impact of these controls would be felt across the entire higher education sector and would not be confined to engineering departments, even though that is where the loss in overseas student numbers would be greatest.

2.5 For the consequential reasons given in 2.4 the EPGS suggest that any controls should be based upon a selective policy that takes into account the merit of a particular degree course to be followed (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it is suggested, having high merit) and the standing of the higher education institution (universities and colleges) at which the course will be followed.

2.6 Ideally undergraduate and postgraduate engineering and science degree courses would be filled with ‘home grown’ students. The lamentable fact is that it is simply not possible to attract enough UK students to fill these programmes, particularly at postgraduate level.

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

3.1 Many industries are currently unable to recruit the highly skilled staff they need from the UK population and the new Border Agency constraint further reduces the available overseas talent pool. The inability to recruit these individuals is now causing companies to lose the ability to effectively deliver on their successfully awarded contracts and on the development and export of new products. Ultimately, this is causing the loss of contracts, competitiveness with the associated jobs moving off-shore to other countries, which must be a concern to the government.

3.2 Whilst there are skills shortages at all levels in the engineering sector, shortages are particularly acute at technician level. Government has set up a Technician Council to try to address the shortage of qualified technicians in the UK. Given this any removal of engineering technicians from the skills shortage list would appear to go against the spirit of government effects to reduce technician skills shortages and support industry.

4.0 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

4.1 No comment.

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

5.1 EPGS note that there is a proposal to restrict the rights of dependents of people holding student visas to work in the UK. This would particularly deter mature students, including those intending to apply to study for a PhD degree. EPGS raise further concerns on the introduction of a restriction in the opportunities for international graduates to remain in the UK for a short time to get work experience. EPGS are concerned that this will further deter high-quality overseas student applicants, who would like to get 12-24 months work experience in the UK on their CV, before returning to their home or another overseas country.

6.0 The level of compliance with the current system and:

1. The number of those applying to study

2. The number of dependents accompanying students

3. The rules governing work entitlement for students and dependents

4. The rules governing work entitlement after a course has finished, in Scotland

6.1 No comment.

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

7.1 No comment.

8.0 Declaration of Interests

8.1 The Engineering Policy Group for Scotland is an initiative of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is supported in membership by the IMechE, ICE, IChemE and IESIS.

8.2 The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is a leading professional society for the engineering and technology community, with more than 150,000 members in 127 countries and offices in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. In Scotland the IET has 10,000 members. It provides a global knowledge network to facilitate the exchange of ideas and promote the positive role of science, engineering and technology. The IET is a registered charity in England & Wales (no 211014) and Scotland (no SC038698), which awards professional registration status: ICT Technician (ICTTech), Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Chartered Engineer (CEng).

March 2011