Internationally Scottish: Creating global communities

Scotland’s universities are one community of students and staff from all over the world. This diversity and togetherness adds so much value to Scotland.

We’re continually inspired by the integration we see between UK students and their international counterparts and by the extensive, mutually beneficial global partnerships our staff develop. This generates so many positive outcomes: a support network for teenage refugees in Scotland, delivered by staff and students; student links between Scotland and China; research teams connected to the other side of the world. And so much more. These stories demonstrate the incredible impact that our universities can have not only in our local communities but across the globe. Together, we can harness this internationalisation, offer Scotland as a place to learn together, live together, build a stronger global community, boost our economy and make Scotland a greater force for good in the world. Internationally Scottish is a snapshot of the incredible initiatives and projects happening in our universities because of our internationalisation.

Internationally Scottish coincides with the coronavirus pandemic and with major political and constitutional change in the UK’s relationship with the EU. It also comes at a time when significant action is needed – the world over – to achieve environmental sustainability. Each of these things bring different challenges to internationalisation but they also drive home the reality that today’s challenges are global and they help to reinforce the importance of effective integration and mutual respect across cultures. Higher education is a powerful force for achieving that.

Internationally Scottish looks at the benefits that internationalism can offer Scotland, and the world, through the perspectives of our students and graduates, our staff, alumni and local communities here in Scotland.

Why students choose Scotland

The Global Room at the University of Dundee provides a relaxed social space where students and staff can feel at home on campus. It’s a central hub where everyone is welcome to celebrate diverse cultural events and meet new people from around the world. Staff are available for language support and offer drop-in sessions for Immigration Compliance and the International Advice Service. For Heather Doughty, a psychology student from Hungary, the Global Room has played a big part in making her feel at home on campus:

“My everyday worries vanish in the Global Room. The environment of acceptance and integration is enhanced by the positive, welcoming attitude of the staff. They always ask how I am, how my studies are going and, most importantly, whether I would like a cup of coffee or tea – sometimes with biscuits! I feel acknowledged and cared for, which is very important for students like myself who are far from home and only see their family members twice a year.”

Edinburgh Napier University is passionate about building internationalisation partnerships which develop sustainable models of transnational education (TNE) and encourage an international outlook for students and staff. Ashinsa de Silva Wijeyeratne, a TNE student from the Spectrum Institute of Science and Technology (SIST) in Sri Lanka, received a grant from Edinburgh Napier to visit the University as part of her degree. The visit helped Ashinsa explore her degree subject in a new light:

“Coming from a smaller institute, it was quite lovely to see what a ‘real’ university is like. Meeting the scientists carrying out research that could make a difference was truly inspiring. I received plenty of support from everyone around me and the design of the course was beneficial as it gave an overview of the many aspects of microbiology and biotechnology. It showed me the vast range these subjects have and helped me understand the areas I might pursue as a career.”

A global staff experience

Heriot-Watt University’s Dubai and Malaysia campuses – established in 2005 and 2012 respectively – expand the global reach of the university and tap into an ever-growing community of international researchers. Lynne B Jack, an academic and researcher with over twenty years’ experience, moved from Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus to become Director of Research for the Malaysia campus:

“When the opportunity for a longterm secondment arose, my curiosity was piqued. My children had recently left home to pursue their own degree qualifications, and it seemed like the perfect chance to expand my professional, vocational and cultural horizons. Almost two and a half years later, I am delighted that I made this decision.”

International Staff Week is a scheme, supported by Erasmus+, which brings professional or academic staff from participating higher education institutions or partner countries together to learn from each other and explore new approaches to internationalisation. Gordana Nesterovic, University of Strathclyde Recruitment Coordinator, attended two of these events – one in Dresden, Germany in 2017, and a second in Lisbon, Portugal in 2019. And Gordana feels that she’s benefitted personally and professionally from collaborating with international colleagues:

“I find it inspiring to exchange ideas through activities and workshops with colleagues from all over the world. It’s comforting to realise that, despite our differences, we all face similar challenges and can collaborate to overcome them together. Internationalisation offers a chance to gain fresh perspectives on team structures and strategies that can transform the way we work.”

A curriculum for global skills

Abertay University runs a strategic 10-year partnership with Chinese entertainment giant Perfect World. The programme welcomes 100 China-based students to Abertay every year, and aims to encourage further business, academic and research connections between Scotland and Asia – both in new academic programmes and computer games research. It was through this programme that Lili Liu graduated with an MProf in Games Development and fulfilled a long-held dream:

“I’m from Dalian, a coastal city in China, and I’d always wanted to study abroad. Abertay’s partnership with Perfect World allowed me to do that. Dundee is home to so many video game companies, it feels like a community of developers and creative people. My Games Development MProf was all about preparation for the world of work – it helped me learn exactly how the industry works, while also improving my skills in a professional environment.”

The Communications, Media and Culture division at the University of Stirling prides itself on its international outlook, captured in the courses and opportunities it provides to students and staff alike. As part of this commitment, they have partnered with a number of overseas institutions, stretching from Spain to Vietnam, to help students develop global skills through internationalised curricula and studying abroad. Dr Katherine Champion is Programme Director for the MSc in Media Management in Stirling and also coordinates modules on the MSc Media and Communications programme in Vietnam:

“Our international curricula are designed to ensure students leave us as highly skilled and employable graduates who possess global skills. “Both programmes aim to develop students’ understanding of the global media industries, explaining key theoretical frameworks by drawing on examples from a range of cultural contexts. Debates in class focus on students contributing their own cultural and contextual knowledge so they can learn from one another. Students are also encouraged to write about media in their countries of origin.”

Supporting the community

The Teenage Syrian Refugee Tutoring Project brings together students and staff from the University of Edinburgh to help teenage refugees settle into their new life in Scotland’s capital. Co-founded by Syrian refugee and alumnus of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Amer Masri – alongside English teacher Nadin Akta – the project focuses on exploring ways to help teenage refugees integrate at a new school. Dr Masri reflects:

“When I came to Scotland in 2011, the University helped me a lot. I’ve always felt grateful and I wanted to help other Syrian refugees in Edinburgh. No words are enough to thank the University for supporting me and this initiative.

“I feel proud that we have done something that benefits these teenagers. Scotland will be their home country in the future, and they need to be positive individuals in this community.”

Elia Martinez Ulles, a Forensic Sciences student from Spain, registered to volunteer in the local community while studying at Robert Gordon University (RGU). Elia helped out at the Denis Law Legacy Trust’s Streetsport programme, which delivers free weekly sports and creative activity sessions for young people across Aberdeen. Elia believes the programme allows participants to build better links with the community and gain first-hand experience of other cultures:

“I decided to volunteer for Streetsport because I wanted to give something back to the community during my time at university. This gives me a chance to help others while having a great time. By engaging with the youths who take part in Streetsport, we’ve all been able to learn about other cultures and see how rich a place the world is.”

Alumni around the world

Stasi Schaeffer came from the United States to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) in 2009 and obtained an MA in Classical and Contemporary Text (Directing). After graduation, Stasi worked with Scottish Opera and at the Royal Opera House in London. She is now self-employed as a freelance stage director in Glasgow, where she’s found a vibrant and welcoming creative community:

“In Scotland I have directed a wide range of projects, including shows for long-running lunchtime theatre company ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’, several shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and productions that have toured large-scale theatres. My education at the RCS and my life in this country enabled me to achieve a lot of really incredible things and have some truly unforgettable experiences.”

Growing up in the Swiss countryside, Claire Simonetta always had a love of nature and the outdoors. But she was particularly inspired by the Scottish landscape after visiting on holiday: Keen to combine her practical knowledge with academic studies of farming, Claire began to study agriculture at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Ayr in 2013. The course has shaped her career to this day:

“My time at SRUC was incredibly valuable in boosting my confidence and giving me the theoretical knowledge I needed to progress in my career. I now combine my work on my partner’s hill farm with my work as an agricultural consultant, and I use my passion and drive to actively engage with the local farming industry.”

Key Points:

  • Each year more than 58,000 international students from 180 countries study in Scotland.
  • Over the last five years, our international student population has grown by 25%. Scotland is also the most popular UK study destination among EU students, only second to London.
  • Universities are keen to continue supporting students, staff and their families, by providing appropriate services to strengthen integration. By placing even greater emphasis on celebrating diversity, we hope to see an increase in numbers of international staff and students over the next five years.
  • We have excellent relationships with alumni worldwide, and whilst we develop these as individual universities, we are also working with the Scottish Government Alumni Working Group to enhance collective benefit for the country.


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