University chief appeals to UK Government to promote, not punish, higher education as an important export sector

The Convener of Universities Scotland has called on the UK Government to help promote, not punish, universities’ role in exporting internationally ahead of a consultation on international students expected early in the New Year.

Figures show that the value of international exports from Scotland’s university sector stand at £444 million based on the direct fee income from international students alone. In addition, the off-campus expenditure of international students adds another £488 million to Scotland’s economy every year. This makes universities Scotland’s twelfth largest sector for international exports when compared with export data held by the Scottish Government.

However, the UK Government is prepared to put HE export income and economic contribution at risk with a forthcoming consultation, expected in January 2017, that could propose limiting the total number of international students coming to the UK. The consultation could also include proposals to differentiate between universities; allowing some institutions to recruit international students, whilst limiting or preventing others from doing so.

Commenting on the value of higher education exports and the forthcoming consultation to potentially limit international student numbers, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland said:

University exports have been a success story; the UK Government should be looking to promote higher education, not punish it with the introduction of limits on student numbers or limits on some institutions. International students contribute so much economically, socially and culturally to Scotland. Yet all of this is at risk if the UK Government decides to cut numbers and make Scottish and UK universities anti-competitive on the world-stage. This must be strenuously challenged.

“Higher education has the quality and reputation it takes to be successful in our international exports but the policy environment we operate in is already holding us back. If further obstacles are put in our way it stands to cause real damage to Scotland’s universities, to the value of an important Scottish export and to economic growth.”

Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions are home to 31,000 international students.

The UK Government’s consultation is expected in January 20017. It has mooted the idea that it will look to change student immigration policy to differentiate between universities, limiting the potential of some to recruit international students. Every one of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions are quality assured through a rigorous programme of institutional review conducted by an external panel.


• Export Statistics Scotland as published by the Scottish Government, 2016. Table 2 shows total international exports grouped by sector.
• International student fees are not captured in the table above but the value of international student fees in academic year 2014/15 was £444 million as recorded by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The annual off-campus expenditure of international students is estimated at £488 million. These figures are accepted by Scottish Development International as higher education exports.
• The availability of places for international students in Scottish universities has no bearing on the availability of places for Scottish-domiciled students. Places for Scottish-domiciled students are ring-fenced by the Scottish Government.