Swathes of students from Eastern Europe are studying in Scottish colleges. It gives a boost for the economy, but experts warn of overcrowding. Fiona MacLeod reports
An influx of Eastern European students is boosting Scottish colleges and helping redress Scotland's brain drain - but it comes with a warning that there is a limit to the numbers with which the sector can cope.
Since their countries joined the European Union in 2004, the numbers of people studying from Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic has increased fivefold.
In 2003-04, there were around 83 people from the accession states in Scottish FE. Last year, that rose to around 406. The greatest rises are in the number of Polish and Czech students. Two years ago, there were just 22 Czechs and 50 Poles - last year there were 68 Czechs and 190 Poles at college. Slovakian students increased to 26 from 11 and new swathes are coming from Latvia and Lithuania.
Tom Kelly, chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Colleges, said:
"It is both a challenge and an opportunity. I don't think anyone foresaw how many there would be or that those coming would be so keen to take up education. It is not unknown for them to do a full shift at work and a full-time college course as well."
ASC figures indicate that the colleges with the most Eastern European students are Banff and Buchan in Fraserburgh, Dundee, Stevenson, Telford and Jewel and Esk Valley.
Paul Sherrington, depute principal at Banff and Buchan College, said there are 178 overseas students at the college with around 54 from the accession states. "Some come because they want to improve their English," he said.
"But a lot of migrant workers are working in fish processing or agriculture - they are obviously motivated by jobs."
The influx has not come without complications, though, he said: "The biggest change we've had is to provide a lot of additional suport. They come with a different type of problem - they don't have the usual support network and it's putting a strain on our resources."
At Dundee College, the number of ESOL students rose from 426 in 2004-05 to 591 this year. A spokesman for the college said: "We have been delighted with the increase in numbers, particularly in Polish students. They seem to be able to find work and come to college to improve their English. Some then go on to other courses while they are here.
"We have found them to be hardworking and having a positive impact on the community. Without a doubt, the face of Dundee has changed dramatically in recent years - they have made it more cosmopolitan."
Dundee, like other colleges, welcomes the additional cash the extra students bring in and says many are paying for courses themselves, because they have jobs and expect to pay as they would in their own countries.
As EU citizens, they are entitled to apply for funding from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. A spokesman for the executive said that, if the numbers stay around 400, it is unlikely to cause a financial strain.
He also stressed the figures fit in with the Fresh Talent initiative, which was introduced by the executive two years ago to encourage people to come and live in Scotland amid predictions of population decline.