International students critically important for Scottish jobs, growth and global ambitions

  • International students have contributed between £4-6 billion to Scottish economy.
  • The graduate route is a win-win for international students and the UK.
  • The MAC’s planned review of the Graduate Route visa must retain an internationally attractive post-study work route in the UK.

Since 2019, the presence of international students in Scotland, supported by the Graduate Route as a post study work visa, has contributed between £4-6 billion to Scotland’s economy, new research shows.

Analysis by Universities Scotland, drawing on London Economics data, demonstrates the extraordinary contribution that international students have made to the Scottish economy in a short period, creating growth and jobs. Analysis on the number of students enrolling in Scottish institutions offers an addition to the economy of £4 billion, however this could be as high as £6 billion based on wider forecasting.

The analysis comes ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) planned review of the Graduate Route, scheduled for later this year. The Graduate Route came into effect in summer of 2021, as a key part of enabling the objectives of the UK Government’s 2019 International Education Strategy. It’s creation would have been a strong attraction factor for international applicants from 2019 onward, which explains the baseline year for this analysis.

The UK Government’s International Strategy was aimed at achieving two key ambitions by 2030; growing the value of education exports and, increasing the number of international students studying in the UK.

Linked to that, the Graduate Route was created by the UK Government as a new visa allowing international graduates to stay and work in the UK for two years after successful completion of studies.

Studies show that:

  • post study work options are a key determinant of international student choice, when considering where to study with 63% saying it directly influences their choice.[1]
  • 44% of international students would change their destination country if the post-study work period was reduced[2].

Professor Andrea Nolan, International Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University, said:

“The UK’s ability to attract greater numbers of international students over the last five years has been a major economic success story. In Scotland alone this has added between £4 – 6 billion to Scotland’s economy. The positive economic impact of international students, alongside their cultural and social contributions, has indirectly supported thousands of jobs and businesses across the UK, in a time of economic uncertainty.”

Recent policy changes and rhetoric on immigration from the UK government cuts across the ambition in its International Education Strategy. The UK Government has said it has no plans to abolish the route, with the intended purpose of the Migration Advisory Committee’s review to ensure the visa is working: “in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high quality jobs for the global talent pool but reducing opportunities for abuse.”

The graduate route cannot be extended, is not a route to permanent residency and only a tiny minority (8%) of international students are interested in permanent residency in the UK, beyond their studies.

If there were to be a curtailment of the Graduate Route, following the MAC review, it could have serious implications for Scotland’s world-renowned university sector and the wider economy. The UK Government’s decision to end dependents visas for post graduate students from 1 January 2024 had a significant and immediate impact on demand some of Scotland’s key international markets such as Nigeria, India and Pakistan. The sector continues to face unprecedented headwinds in wider international student recruitment with rising competition from countries such as the USA and Australia offering more attractive post-graduate opportunities to students than the UK.

Professor Andrea Nolan said:

“Successful economies around the world recognise that an internationally competitive post study work visa is an essential part of the package offered to international students. It is a win-win for the students and for the host nation. Any change to the Graduate Route must also ensure it remains an attractive and competitive offer to those who wish to study here.

“Universities are committed to the elimination of any visa abuse but with very little evidence of this happening, we need to reframe the narrative and reassure prospective international students that Scotland and the UK remains open, and a warm welcome awaits.”



[2] 2023/24 research from international education specialists IDP Education.