James Smith: We must nurture talent in Scotland

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For a small country, Scotland punches above its weight when it comes to the international reputation of its universities – not just in terms of the world-class research with which they’re involved, but also in terms of the learning and teaching experience they deliver.

Many other countries also have excellent universities, and to maintain that international reputation we need to stay one step ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting the brightest students. At the University of Edinburgh, international students represent more than 40 per cent of our student community and come from more than 140 different nations.

Not only do they contribute to the vibrancy of the city and the exchange of knowledge, they also have a big impact on our society and economy, with large numbers taking part in our student volunteering programmes, contributing to local communities and the city of Edinburgh.

Historically, many have chosen to stay on after study and use the knowledge they have acquired at university to do great things within Edinburgh, Scotland or the wider UK.

The University of Edinburgh has one of the best records of company formation of all UK universities (particularly for student-led spinouts) and a high proportion of these companies have international students or graduates involved in them.

Universities are training the next generation of leaders and influencers. Many of our students go on to become partners with – and in a sense ambassadors for – Scotland, as well as leaders in their own countries.

We know there is a clear relationship between increased levels of trust in a country and an increase in a person’s inclination to do business with, study in or visit that country.

And yet despite all the benefits they bring, we are in danger of dissuading them to study in Scotland. This is not because of what our universities offer them, but because their right to remain here and work once their studies are complete has been taken away following a decision by the UK government to abolish the post-study work visa in 2012. 

The Scottish Government’s 
Post-Study Work Group has now called for the reintroduction of the visa and that is a call we wholeheartedly endorse. Scotland would be so much the poorer without the vital contribution that our international students make, and we should be looking to encourage more, rather than fewer, to come.

Professor James Smith, Vice Principal International, University of Edinburgh