Scottish higher education urges the Scotland Office to make positive case on immigration policy in light of Brexit

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, has called on the Scotland Office today (Wednesday 14 December) to work with Scottish higher education to make a case to the UK Government that positive change is needed to immigration policy to ensure that international talent can come to study in Scotland’s universities and remain after graduation to meet the skills gaps facing the Scottish economy.

Professor Nolan’s comments come before Rt Hon Mr Mundell MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, gives oral evidence to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into Scotland’s place in Europe following the Brexit vote.

Professor Nolan’s comments come in the same week as media speculation that the UK Government could be considering halving the number of international students entering the UK (1) as part of a forthcoming consultation expected from the Home Office in the next few weeks.

Speaking before the Committee session, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland said:

“As we prepare for exiting the European Union, we are being advised to take the opportunity to focus our interests more broadly than Europe, to build even more relationships across the world. (2) If universities are to take this as an opportunity and make a bigger contribution to the UK’s export economy in doing so, we need to see positive and meaningful change on immigration from the UK Government so we can restore our competitiveness in the recruitment of international students.

“Universities are a key sector of the Scottish economy, contributing over £7 billion every year. We call on the Scotland Office and UK Government to make the economic decision to support universities to be competitive, to support them to grow the value of their exports, as it would any other sector of the economy. We need the UK Government to bring forward positive changes to its policy on student immigration.”

Commenting on media speculation that the UK Government’s planned consultation on immigration may aim to reduce international student numbers entering the UK by half, Professor Nolan said:

“University leaders are deeply fearful of any proposals to further restrict the flow of international talent into our universities. We cannot see who would benefit from such a move.

“International students do not compete with home students for places at university nor job offers in the labour market. The voting public do not consider international students to be economic migrants. (3) A move to limit international student numbers would come at great cost to our universities and would compromise the kind of education we want our home students to experience; it would take a chunk out of Scotland’s export industry and put jobs at risk. I am at a loss to understand who or what would benefit from such a move.”

Universities Scotland submitted written evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry in late October. The inquiry poses the question: “What consequences and opportunities exist for developing Scottish trade in Europe and beyond in light of the EU referendum result?”




  1. As encouraged by Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Prime Minister, during her India-UK Tech Summit speech
  2. As reported by the Guardian, Monday 12 December 2016.
  3. Based on a ComRes poll across the UK conducted for Universities UK. Only 24% of respondents (n = 2,018) thought that international students were immigrants. 91% felt international students should be able to stay and work for a period after their studies.

The Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry into Scotland’s Place in Europe is still live. Rt Hon Mr Mundell MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, will be a witness at an oral evidence session held by the Committee at 14.15 on Wednesday 14 December. Details can be found at the website: Universities Scotland submitted written evidence to the inquiry in late October. We provided the following information in response to the question: “What consequences and opportunities exist for developing Scottish trade in Europe and beyond in light of the EU referendum result?”

“Scotland’s universities are already home to over 27,000 full-time equivalent students from outside the EU. We are proud to teach students from over 180 countries. Having a community of international students on campus enriches the educational experience for all students. They also make a significant social and cultural contribution to their universities and the community beyond. International students make an undoubtedly significant economic contribution. Fees from outside the EU amounted to £444 million in 2014/15. There is also a significant off-campus expenditure arising from international students in Scotland, estimated to be around the same order of magnitude. However, there are real challenges to our ability to compete in a fiercely challenging global market for international students. There was evidence, soon after the Brexit vote that it was having an immediate and very negative impact on potential international students beyond the EU as a consequence of the way the vote was perceived around the world. A survey of international students in July of this year found that 30% of students surveyed were less likely to study in the UK as a result of the Brexit vote.

 “Another significant challenge is the policy environment in which we operate. Our English-language competitors in Canada, New Zealand, the US and Australia make a highly attractive visa offer to international students. Whilst the quality of our higher education sector in Scotland is able to compete with the best, the policy environment in which we operate is a limiting factor. This has seen the growth of international student numbers in Scotland plateau at best, and fall significantly from some of what had been our key markets including India and Nigeria.”