Overseas enrolment is hitting a wall
Foreign parents could be put off sending their children to Scottish independent schools because of UK immigration policy, experts have warned.
Schools could struggle to keep up with international competitors if parents see the country as unwelcoming, said John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS).
In its response to an enquiry by the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee, the SCIS said this perception could have "a detrimental knock-on effect at school level when families are deciding whether or not to enrol their child in an independent school in Scotland".
Mr Edward told TESS: "Any school will tell you that they operate in an extremely competitive global environment, with North America, Australia etc very open to international students, so our schools will not welcome anything which, either in perception or reality, makes life harder for.institutions and students."
In its written contribution to Parliament, the SCIS said that it would embrace an immigration policy that was "seen to be welcoming towards international students and that reflected the needs of Scotland; a flexible, post-work visa policy that encourages international students to study in Scotland and continue to work here after completion of their studies".
The organisation spoke in support of the visa - proposed in the government's November White Paper Scotland's Future - which it said could encourage a larger student population.
"The allowance of additional time in the country after graduating, in order to search for work, would improve the attractiveness of Scotland to potential students and would hopefully positively influence their decision to study here," the SCIS said. It also welcomed the government's commitment that if there were a yes vote on independence in September, international students' attendance at independent schools would "continue to be openly encouraged".
"The government's own council of economic advisers has recognised the value of school-age international education to Scotland, just as BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] has done for the UK overall," Mr Edward said.
He added that "the reassuring news is that interest and participation remains high - both from boarding pupils and from international families relocating to Scotland".
SCIS member schools currently house 1,309 international students, accounting for 24.8 per cent of all boarding school students in Scotland. According to recent research carried out on behalf of the organisation, international school fees contribute pound;27.8 million to the Scottish economy each year.
A survey of international students by the Independent Schools Council also found that many were likely to move on to Scottish further and higher education, as two-thirds of respondents attended UK universities.
"Therefore, the SCIS would welcome more coherent and consistent policies that reflect the aforementioned aim of encouraging international students to study in Scotland, whether at school or university level," the council's statement says.
A spokesman said that the Scottish government shared concerns that immigration policy was attempting to reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK.
"Independence will give Scotland the levers that it needs to put in place a controlled immigration system that best meets our own social, economic and demographic needs," he added. "Our plans for a post-study work visa for those leaving higher education, as detailed in Scotland's Future, would allow recent graduates from outwith the EU to stay in the country to work or set up a business, thus retaining skilled and educated graduates as part of the Scottish labour force."