Westminster warned student visa restrictions are damaging Scottish universities


Westminster must sit up and pay heed to the warnings being sounded on the damage that moves to tighten student visas is having on Scotland university research sector, the SNP has said, following damning evidence from the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI).

The tightening of student visas has been described as the “biggest source of concern” that the SCDI has towards Scotland’s universities and the substantial research they contribute.

Earlier this week the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee heard evidence from the SCDI that Westminster’s restriction of student visas “is a huge challenge to universities socially and financially and to Scotland economically”.

International students bring in millions of pounds to the Scottish economy, bring huge social benefits and improve Scotland’s international prestige when people with a Scottish education go on to hold senior positions in companies or organisations around the world.

Giving evidence to the Holyrood committee, James Alexander Senior Policy and Communications Manager at the SCDI said:

“Our biggest source of concern for universities in Scotland is the tightening of student visas.  Incidentally, it affects colleges as well as universities, but the impact on universities could be very significant.

“The international student market is worth millions of pounds to the Scottish economy not only in the fees that are paid to the universities but in the benefits that the students bring to the wider economy from living here.  The social benefits to Scotland are huge.  If there are people who have received a Scottish education in senior positions in companies or public organisations around the world, that can only make Scotland look better on the international stage.  Also, having a diverse mix of students study together and interact on campus can only be good for Scotland’s universities.

“Therefore, from the SCDI’s perspective, the tightening of student visas is a huge challenge to universities socially and financially and to Scotland economically. We would like the Scottish Government to do all it can to work with the UK Government to change the proposed visa restrictions or reduce their impact on international students who study in Scotland.”

Asked whether the SCDI was satisfied with the response it had received from the UK Government to its efforts to make the case against tightening student visas, Mr Alexander responded “not at this stage”.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine (pictured above) was so concerned by what she heard on the Committee that she has written to Minister for Immigration Mark Harper calling on him to urgently address the concerns raised by the SCDI.

Commenting, Ms McAlpine said:

“I was shocked to hear the extent to which Westminster was allowing Scotland’s university research sector to be jeopardised, which is why I have written to the Immigration Minister.

“The many international students from around the world who come to Scotland for their university education enrich Scottish life enormously.

“Yet as well as the important social value they bring, they also make a massive financial contribution to Scotland, something that is more essential than ever during difficult economic times.

“Scotland’s universities are responsible for 12.4% of UK research, punching well above our population share.

“That achievement has in part been made possible thanks to the contribution of international students in Scotland’s universities and it is essential that Westminster’s approach does not stifle the sector.

“The SCDI are right to raise their concerns, but the fact of the matter is that the only way we can ensure that Scotland has an appropriate visa system that does not disadvantage our universities is for these decisions to be made by an independent Scotland.”