“This is a significant issue for when we leave [the EU]”
Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK parliament in London, Universities Scotland Convener Andrea Nolan said: “I’d like us to look at a new immigration system as a whole that supports the mobility of talented people and attracts talented students into Scotland. We value them hugely.”
The committee heard from representatives of Scottish FE and HE on the impact of Brexit on the sector as part of its inquiry into immigration in Scotland.
Approximately 12% of international students and 11% of staff in Scottish universities are from the EU, Nolan said.
“This is a significant issue for when we leave [the EU],” Nolan added. “They [EU students and staff] populate subject areas that are really important to Scotland, such as STEM.”
When asked what will happen if EU students are included in the same process as international students after Brexit, Nolan said she is “concerned on many levels.”
“Scotland would lose out. The systems we have for accepting international students in are very rigorous, quite bureaucratic, but we adhere to them, we take very seriously… To apply [international student systems] to EU students would be a huge additional cost and administrative burden onto the HE sector.”
“It’s not to say we don’t approve of stringent controls, but it is a huge additional cost and our EU student population would probably decline.”
Another problem would be fees. EU students would lose their ‘home’ status, which grants them the right to pay the same fees as Scottish students, and would have to pay the much higher international fees.
“In Europe there are many countries that don’t charge fees – for example Germany. If we charge fees, we would be in competition. I would imagine that’s where they would choose to study.”
The college sector is also concerned about loss of enrolments and EU funding – such as funding for ‘employability training’, which Colleges Scotland director of sector policy Andrew Witty said help over 4000 full time students to get back into the workforce.
“We would expect to see a significant reduction in applications. We need an immigration system that allows us to retain the benefits we have now, and allows colleges to skill up the workforce, including at regional level,” Witty said.
“Also, there would be changes to work rights for students if we had to apply international students rules to EU students and this would present a challenge for colleges to recruit.”
The debate touched on the topic of the inclusion of international students in the net migration figures.
Nolan said that would be ‘very helpful’, and mentioned the new evidence provided by the HEPI report of international students’ contribution to the UK economy.