HE sector bands together to take on global competitors and support ambition for 50% export growth

Connected Scotland, a new collaborative approach to promote Scotland’s higher education sector internationally, has been launched today [Monday 16 June] to support the ambitious goal of increasing the sector’s export revenue by more than 50 per cent in six years.

The partnership commits eight different higher education organisations, enterprise agencies and funding bodies,[1] as well as the higher education institutions themselves, to work more closely together to compete in a highly internationalized and fiercely competitive marketplace for higher education.

Scotland’s university sector has been acknowledged as an industry sector in its own right with annual exports totaling £1.3 billion in 2011/12; 60 per cent of which is from outside of the UK. Connected Scotland has come together to support the ambitious goal of growing the value of university exports from £1.3 billion to over £2 billion by 2017.

Scotland’s higher education sector has the qualities needed to position itself as the study destination and international partner of choice for teaching, research and knowledge exchange:

  • Scotland is home to more world-class universities per head of population than any other country in the world.
  • Scotland’s international student satisfaction ratings beat those of our competitors.
  • every higher education institution in Scotland undertakes some research independently judged to be “world-leading”.

A recent analysis of the sector in Scotland, commissioned by British Council Scotland, found the sector to have five distinctive assets that made it “world class and highly innovative” but called for Scotland to do more to promote itself internationally as distinct from the rest of the UK.[2] Connected Scotland directly addresses this challenge by bringing together key organisations, able to articulate the sector’s strengths and promote Scotland to networks across the globe, with a shared and more concentrated focus. However, it consciously steers away from presenting the sector as one homogenous “brand Scotland” which could risk losing sight of the 19 very different institutions that comprise it and actually make Scotland such an appealing destination for study and research partnerships.

Connected Scotland’s remit offers support to Scotland’s HEIs with their own goals in international student recruitment delivery of transnational education[3] and research, development and knowledge exchange contracts. Scottish institutions will still compete against one another in these areas but have identified common ground on which to work more closely together, recognising that Scotland’s real competition are universities throughout the rest of the world. Sharing the information, experience and contacts held by the Connected Scotland partners for the benefit of the whole sector signals a more strategic and coordinated approach that is hoped will add value to institutions’ own projections for growth.

The first priority of the new partnership has been to identify new and emerging markets where Scottish higher education can establish itself more prominently. Brazil, China, Malaysia, Mexico/Colombia have been identified as priority markets based on their demographics of tertiary-aged students, potential for student mobility and potential for research and knowledge exchange links. Connected Scotland plans to roll out a programme of outward missions to priority markets over the next three years.

Commenting on the launch of Connected Scotland, Professor Ian Diamond, Convener of Universities Scotland’s International Committee and Principal of the University of Aberdeen said:


“Scotland needs a truly global and competitive higher education sector. Internationalisation brings benefits to staff and students, to our teaching and research and delivers economic growth to our sector and to Scotland as a whole. We have a strong culture of collaboration within in the sector, even reaching into areas in which we compete. A more connected approach builds on this, enabling us to achieve more and cultivate a strong international presence.

“We have big but achievable ambitions; we want to be the higher education sector of choice throughout the world. I believe the quality of the institutions we have and the collective efforts invested into Connected Scotland will give us an edge over our competitors. It’s an exciting time for the sector.”


Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell said:

“This is a fantastic new partnership which will cement the relationships within the sector further. Scotland’s higher education institutes are already internationally recognised and they are increasingly collaborating to harness global opportunities and to promote our exceptional higher education assets overseas. Connected Scotland will enhance the internationalisation of Scottish higher education and connect us to new opportunities around the world.”

Anne MacColl, Chief Executive, Scottish Development International, said:


“Connected Scotland is a great example of the key players in our education sector coming together to position Scotland as the international partner of choice in higher education.

“The role of the Enterprise Agencies in this partnership is to encourage and support higher education institutions to grow their international revenue through trade activities, helping to realise the ambitious goal of growing the value of university exports from £1.3 billion to over £2 billion by 2017.”


Lloyd Anderson, Director of British Council Scotland, said:


“While Scotland already has a remarkably joined-up and collaborative higher education sector, it makes great sense for the key stakeholders to work collaboratively in exploring new, emerging overseas markets. Connected Scotland is an important initiative that will benefit Scotland through enhanced exchange of knowledge, ideas and people, leading to stronger and better international connections.”


Laurence Howells, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said:


“This is an ambitious coming together of organisations, people and ideas that has enormous potential for Scotland.

“I’m very proud that the Funding Council is going to play an important part in something so different and so exciting. I want the best students, researchers and businesses from the countries we’re targeting to know about the world-class opportunities we’re helping to create here in Scotland.”



  1. The Connected Scotland partners are: British Council Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Development International, Scottish Government, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland; on behalf of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions.
  2. British Council Scotland (2013) A Strategic Analysis of the Scottish Higher Education Sector’s Distinctive Assets. p58.
  3. Transnational education is the delivery of education by a Scottish higher education institution overseas whether that be in physical campuses such as those in Oman, Malaysia and New York or through joint provision models with another university.
  4. Visit the Connected Scotland website: