By a Newsnet reporter
The catastrophic damage that Westminster’s determination to turn away international students is doing to Scotland’s colleges and universities has been laid bare as one institution reveals the scale of drop in international students it has suffered.
The University of Aberdeen has revealed that the institution has seen a decline of 60% in students from India since 2010/11 and a fall of 22% in students from Nigeria. Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal of the University has pointed to the loss of the right for international graduates to remain in the country for a time and contribute to the economy as particularly damaging, “with Indian students eschewing the UK for the US and Australia, as the right to remain in the country to gain valuable work experience is a crucial factor in decision-making.”
With the North Sea Oil industry centred on Aberdeen, the University has long had an enviable reputation as one of the best places for international students to develop the skills needed for careers in the oil & gas industry worldwide. That international reputation is at risk if the hugely damaging restrictions that Westminster is imposing continue to result in such a dramatic fall in international students.
Universities Scotland and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry have both repeatedly warned of the hugely damaging impact that Westminster’s student visa restrictions is having on the finances of Scotland’s universities and the wider economy.
Universities Scotland’s Director Alistair Sim previously said on declining international student numbers:
“It is deeply worrying to see such steep declines in students from India, Nigeria and Pakistan studying in Scotland. These are important markets for Scottish higher education and countries with which we have long -standing academic relationship. It’s very important that the message gets out to these countries that international students are welcome in Scotland. This is not the perception given out by hard-line rhetoric from parts of the UK Government.
“It is telling that such a fall occurred only months after UK Borders Agency announced the end to its post-study work route for international students.
“Scottish higher education still has a world-class offer to talented international students, despite being put a competitive disadvantage as a result of changes to immigration.”
Universities in other parts of the UK have also reported a sharp fall-off in numbers of applicants from non-EU countries. Figures released in November last year showed there was a 26% drop in the number of applications for student visas in the UK compared to the previous year.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK said:
“What universities are reporting to us [is that] they are seeing significant drops, particularly from India, from Pakistan and now from China and Saudi Arabia. These are countries that send large numbers and also they are important countries in terms of international engagement and industry engagement, so we want to be promoting and fostering relations with them, not erecting barriers.”
“We have to think much more carefully about how all this is expressed and the sort of tub thumping and the easy elision of international students and fraud and bogus applications plays very badly internationally. [We need to] encourage politicians and decision-makers to portray the UK as being open and welcoming to international students. That can be done without in any sense compromising our immigration laws … At the moment politicians are failing in that task.”
Commenting, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart whose constituency is home to the University of Aberdeen said:
“These are truly shocking figures that lay bare the enormous damage that Westminster is doing to Scotland’s education sector.
“International students are a critical part of the financial health of a university and contribute enormously to campus life. Westminster’s determination to drive away international students is wilfully short-sighted and is already causing significant harm to our colleges and universities.
“The threat that Westminster is posing to Scotland’s cutting-edge research sector and to the international reputations of Universities like Aberdeen is completely unacceptable.
“Why on earth should Scotland’s colleges and universities be paying the price for the Westminster Government’s ideological determination to posture on student visas, no matter the cost?
“The fact that they cannot be trusted to put the needs of our universities and colleges first shows why we need the powers to ensure that Scotland has a student visa system that supports the education sector and the economy. Only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will secure that for Scotland and ensure that the sector is no-longer undermined by the ludicrous decisions being made at Westminster.”