The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: the impact on higher education, research and tuition fees - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

3  Immigration

11. Overseas students are a crucial funding stream for the UK's higher education institutions. In Scotland alone, in 2012-13, overseas students accounted for 12% of the total student body, providing Scottish institutions with £337 million in fees.[16] However, the number of overseas students coming to study in the UK overall fell last year by 1.5%. While the number of students coming from China, the UK's largest source of non-EU students, rose by 6%, the number coming from India, the second-largest source, fell by 25%, following a 32% drop the year before.[17] Universities have expressed concern that tougher visa restrictions imposed by the Home Office since 2011 are affecting the number of overseas students applying to the UK's universities.[18] Professor Raffe told us that:

    there is a perception at the moment, both with respect to staff and students, but especially students, that existing controls are seen to be inhibiting and cramping Scotland's ability to compete, not so much south of the border but with institutions elsewhere in the globe where overseas numbers are increasing much faster.[19]

12. Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, explained the UK's 'offer' to overseas students was not as attractive as it could be when compared to its main competitors, for example, the United States, Canada and Australia. He cited the example of entitlements, such as being able to stay on post-study for a work period or bringing your spouse with you when you are doing a one-year master's degree, as being an important part of the package in attracting students.[20] Mr Willetts emphasised that while the new UK wide immigration regime was tightened to tackle abuse, there is no cap on the number of 'legitimate' students applying to study in the UK:

    We have set rather higher standards for their basic English, for example; we are much more actively checking up on the academic qualifications they say they have, to be sure they really have them and that they are not making misleading claims about prior academic attainment but after that there is no cap on the number.[21]

13. The Scottish Government contends, however, that existing UK immigration policy is "damaging the ability of Scotland's colleges and universities to attract high-quality international students," and has pledged to reverse some of those decisions in the event of separation.[22] The example of the post-study work visa is cited in the White Paper:

    In April 2012, the Westminster Government stopped the post-study work visa, which allowed recent graduates to work or set up a business in the UK for 24 months thus retaining skilled and educated graduates as part of the UK labour force. [...]

    This Government plans to reintroduce the post-study work visa. This visa will encourage more talented people from around the world to further their education in Scotland, providing income for Scotland's education institutions and contributing to the local economy and community diversity.[23]

14. However, it is not clear whether the Scottish Government will be in the position to deliver this commitment and reform immigration policy. In the event of separation, the Scottish Government intends Scotland to join the Common Travel Area (CTA) formed by the United Kingdom, Ireland, Isle of Man and States of Jersey and Guernsey.[24] Professor Tomkins told us, pursuing a wholly independent immigration policy is incompatible with being a member of a common travel area:

    Ireland does not pursue a wholly independent immigration policy. It is not as if Ireland's immigration policy is set by London, but there are agreements, as part of the operation of the common travel area between London and Dublin, about immigration. The Scottish Government have said, "We don't want to pursue the same immigration policy as is pursued in London. We want our own independent and substantively different immigration policy," and that is incompatible with membership of the common travel area, at least as it currently operates.[25]

15. In its Analysis Paper on borders and citizenship, the UK Government confirmed that a separate Scotland's membership of the CTA would need to be negotiated with existing members and would be subject to the Scottish Government's agreement to co-operate and align with other members of the CTA on certain visa and immigration policies (assuming Scotland is not forced by the EU to join Schengen).[26] The Analysis Paper further states that "a significant divergence of Scottish policy on short-term visas or immigration policies could strain the current cooperative arrangements of the CTA".[27]

16. The Scottish Government accepts that in order to join the Common Travel Area its visa and immigration controls and practice must meet certain shared standards and that these would be subject to negotiation.[28] However, it does not acknowledge that such negotiations could impact on its proposals to reform immigration policy. The Scottish Government should be clear that if a separate Scotland were to join the Common Travel Area it would not be free to pursue a wholly independent immigration policy that differed significantly from the rest of the UK. However, since separation may provide scope for marginal changes, which might be beneficial to the recruitment of foreign students, we believe the UK Government should look at whether changes sought can be accommodated within the framework and objectives of existing policy.

16   Herald Scotland, Fall in foreign students after crackdown on immigration, 17 January 2014. Back

17   Times Higher Education, Overseas student total falls 'for first time' as Indian numbers collapse, 18 January 2014  Back

18   See Scottish Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2010-12, The student immigration system in Scotland, HC 912, 25 July 2011 Back

19   Q4304 Back

20   Q4301 Back

21   Q4416 Back

22   Scotland's future: your guide to an independent Scotland, p255 Back

23   Scotland's future: your guide to an independent Scotland, p268-270 Back

24   Scotland's future: your guide to an independent Scotland, p223 Back

25   Q4208 Back

26   HM Government, Scotland analysis: Borders and citizenship, Cm 8726, January 2014, p37 Back

27   HM Government, Scotland analysis: Borders and citizenship, Cm 8726, January 2014, p37 Back

28   Scotland's future: your guide to an independent Scotland, p224 Back

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Prepared 16 March 2014