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Scottish sector reacts to new int’l education plan

Stakeholders are celebrating Scotland's first international education strategy, but some believe key elements are yet to be developed if the sector is to reach its full potential.
February 14 2024
3 Min Read

Many stakeholders in Scotland are celebrating the country’s first international education strategy, but some believe there are key elements yet to be developed if the sector is to reach its full potential.

“This is our strategy to work in partnership, right across the sector and make Scotland an absolutely terrific place for international students to come, study, live and work,” said Julie Ramsay, chair of the Scottish Universities International Group and director of admissions and international programs at the University of St Andrews.

Ramsay addressed some 220 delegates at the SUIG conference in Glasgow, who had gathered to discuss topics within the event’s overarching theme ‘Turbulent tides – navigating the waves of change in the Scottish higher education sector’.

The strategy, a first for Scotland, was released on February 7. It outlined the country’s plans to diversify the international student population, while also making sure students can “maximise their contribution” to the region.

“There’s a shared belief that the strategy is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for international higher education and research throughout Scotland,” said Dehra MacDonald, the Scottish government’s international higher education team leader.

And it’s a strategy that is much needed, especially since the higher education sector in Scotland has such a unique offer from the rest of the UK, she added.

There’s a shared belief that the strategy is the beginning of an exciting new chapter

“The sector was in agreement that Scotland needed their own strategy, something that clearly conveys the importance and ambitions of international higher education in Scotland,” said MacDonald.

“Crucially, a strategy which would also provide the foundation on which we can collaboratively build momentum, drive forward action and reap the benefits of our Team Scotland approach.”

For many, the strategy has been a long time coming, but its release at this particular time – amid a crackdown on migration by the UK government – shows Scotland’s commitment to internationalisation, Harish Lokhun, head of education for British Council Scotland, told The PIE.

“It’s a good rhetoric to the current political climate from the Scottish government. In announcing the strategy, Scotland is demonstrating it continues to be a welcoming and inclusive nation for international students and to development of partnerships for research and innovation.”

“It’s really great to have the international education strategy for Scotland,” said Michelle Stewart, director of internationalisation at the University of Strathclyde.

“The sector has been anticipating it for a while, and it certainly will be a great help to universities as they chart troubled waters. But one area that is still clearly underdeveloped is outward mobility for Scottish students,” continued Stewart.

“Through Turing, the funding is limited and the funds that are there don’t cover all the mobilities that we have. Students are now having to find their own funds to go abroad and that will ultimately limit the number of students who can go out.”

Concerns around funding have plagued the Turing scheme since its rollout, and were summarised in an official analysis of the scheme.

In its strategy, the Scottish government mentions the disadvantages of being unable to fully access Erasmus+, and has introduced a pilot scheme in an effort to repair some of the “damage” caused.

For the 2023/24 academic year, the Scottish government is funding the Scottish Education Exchange Program Test and Learning Project which this year will include 20 fully funded projects, led by institutions, and will see them connect with international partners, student and staff.

However, it admits that the project will not be able deliver the full benefits of the Erasmus+ program.

“But until such a time as the Scottish government’s ambition to rejoin Erasmus+ is achieved, it will support international staff exchanges and develop stronger partnerships between educational institutions,” the Scottish government stated.

The Scottish government said it plans to build on this pilot to develop a Scottish Education Exchange Program.

One area that isn’t documented in the strategy but that Robbie Willis, head of international recruitment a the University of Edinburgh, would like to see developed is the introduction of a flagship scholarship offering, similar to the Saltire Scholarships initiative, which is not running for the 2023/24 academic year.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to tie that into the promotional aspects to show that we’re really supporting the student bodies and that it’s not all just about the economic benefits,” said Willis.

“It’s about acknowledging the benefits of the students to our own UK community.”

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