Scotland strategy dragging feet as unis call for action

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Scotland’s current political turmoil and dragging feet around its new international education strategy has been frustrating the body representing its universities.

Speaking during a panel on regional approaches to international strategies in the UK, Universities Scotland senior policy officer David Donaldson said commitments from the Scottish government needed to be honoured in an uncertain time.

“We have this political commitment to higher education, which on some level we can’t afford – and so we have filled the gap with international students,” he told delegates at IHEF on May 1.

Scotland has 12% of the UK’s international students, and around a quarter of its students are international – above the UK’s average, Donaldson pointed out.

But the rocky road on which Scottish politics is walking in recent months – including a recent change of cabinet and minister – bolstered Universities Scotland to push for the finally-released Scottish International Education Strategy.

“[The release] doesn’t come without challenges. There was no additional investment committed along with our strategy,” he noted, after explaining the commitment the Scottish Government made to its three key themes of Destination Scotland, TNE and bolstering research.

“In fact, when the [Scottish] budget was announced, our budget for international higher education was cut,” he recalled.

More political turmoil has surfaced in recent weeks, as Humza Yousaf, the embattled first minister who followed Nicola Sturgeon, announced his resignation after the collapse of a power-sharing deal in Holyrood on April 29.

“We have spent a long time arguing with the Scottish government about exactly where that money should be prioritised, and arguing over tiny sums of money to get, essentially, promotion of Scotland as a study destination prioritised,” Donaldson continued.

He also noted how important such an action is in a year when international students are in decline across the UK.

When it came to research – something Scotland has long been revered for, including producing 12% of the UK’s research output, Donaldson said – research funding has, in fact, been quite flat, despite commitments from the Scottish Government to raise funding in the new strategy.

“When the [Scottish] budget was announced, our budget for international higher education was cut”

He even noted how Scotland soft launched a Scottish Migration Service in March, which would give international students up to three free appointments with citizens advice to discuss immigration problems.

What’s more, employers would have free appointments with immigration lawyers to discuss how to get students sponsored and into work – especially important in a time when there are uncertainties about the Graduate route.

“Essentially, there was no advertising because the budgets were cut – and it’s unclear if any employers in Scotland know about these opportunities,” he added.

The ray of hope, however, lies in future commitments – and universities continuing to work with whichever Scottish government comes along.

“We worked with the government extensively to get it to a place we’d describe as workable… there has at least been a commitment to a collaborative approach to delivering this strategy.

“It’s matching our priorities around talent attraction our research base as well as our free education offer, and our ambitions for growing TNE,” Donaldson added, which saw over 45,000 students in 2021/22.

The post Scotland strategy dragging feet as unis call for action appeared first on The PIE News.

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