Edinburgh will lose out economically unless the UK government agrees to include the Capital’s universities in a new pilot scheme to retain the talents of overseas graduates, deputy council leader Frank Ross has warned.
Only four universities – all in the south of England – are part of the pilot project which gives international students the right to remain in the country for up to six months after they graduate to look for work.
There have been repeated cross-party calls in Scotland for the return of the post-study work visa – abolished by the Conservative-Lib Dem UK coalition in 2012 – which allowed overseas students to stay for two years after finishing their course.
But only Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Bath have been selected to take part in the new two-year pilot.
And the government has been accused of discriminating against Scottish institutions.
Councillor Ross, leader of the SNP group at the City Chambers, said: “The Home Office has gone on for years about how they can only have one visa system for the whole of the UK and we just have to live with it. Now they have introduced a special relaxation for four elite universities in the south of England.
“Edinburgh has elite universities as well – if not more so.
“There’s no reason why our world-class universities should not have been included in this.”
He said the Capital was likely to suffer both through students being deterred from coming here to study and from losing the talents of overseas graduates when they were forced to leave at the end of their degrees.
He said: “Non-EU overseas students will choose not to come to Edinburgh.
“And when they graduate, rather than staying and adding to our economy they will be going home and setting up in competition. That’s crazy, especially when they want to stay here. There are posts here in Edinburgh in biotech and other sectors, but many not at the starting salary the current visa system demands.”
Labour peer Jack McConnell, who as First Minister introduced the Fresh Talent scheme – a forerunner of the post-study work visas – has said the refusal to include Scottish universities in the pilot is “a slap in the face for Scottish higher education” and warned Scotland stands to lose out on the talents of tens of thousands of graduates, including 3584 currently studying at Edinburgh University alone.
He said the Fresh Talent scheme had never been abused and it was “outrageous” that Scottish universities were excluded despite their excellent record.UK ministers have said Scottish universities may be included in a system of post-work study visa in the future - but not before 2018, once the current pilot is complete.