Why colleges want to extend foreign students' welcome

3rd April 2015 at 01:00
Bring back 24-month post-study work visa, sector demands

Ministers should reintroduce post-study visas "as soon as practical" after the general election in order to attract more international students, according to Scottish colleges.

The visas, abolished in 2012, allowed students from universities and colleges to stay in the UK for 24 months after graduation to work or set up businesses.

Now Colleges Scotland has called for them to be brought back, arguing that the move would benefit both learners and the country's economy.

International students enriched Scottish colleges by providing a more diverse pool of learners, said Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland.

She added: "The cultural exchange benefits everyone as well as helping to promote Scotland. The reintroduction of post-study work visas would attract more overseas students, thus enhancing the college experience for all while retaining skilled graduates who contribute to our economy."

The calls were backed by Paul Little, principal of City of Glasgow College, which currently serves students from more than 130 countries, making it the biggest international player in Scottish further education. The visas, he said, would allow the college to "attract and retain key talent from across the globe".

The college sector's move to enter the debate comes after the post-study working group - set up by the Scottish government in 2014 to examine the issue - called last week for the visas to be reintroduced.

It cited the results of a survey which found that 100 per cent of education providers and 85 per cent of businesses in Scotland were in favour of bringing back the visa.

Among businesses that had previously employed international graduates under post-study work schemes, there was 94 per cent support. About 70 per cent of respondents said that former students should be able to move on to a longer-term visa once their post-study work visa came to an end.

The case for skills

Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland, said the case for allowing international students to work in Scotland after successfully completing their studies was "overwhelming".

"The benefits Scotland would gain from this extend far beyond our universities to enrich our society, culture and economy," he added.

And Howard McKenzie, a fellow of the Institute of Directors, said: "Scotland's businesses need to employ qualified and skilled workers from whatever source, and consider that post-study work visas enable them to add to the diversity and effectiveness of their workforce. Unlike other areas of the UK, Scotland needs to attract talented, skilled workers to fuel its economic growth and sustain its wealth-creating businesses."

The final decision about whether to reintroduce the visas rests with MPs in Westminster, although the Scottish government has already voiced its support for the move.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland's minister for Europe and international development, said the Scottish government had "opposed the closure of the post-study work visa and consistently argued for its reintroduction. We will continue to press the UK government on this point."

He added: "We need to grow our working-age population to support and strengthen our economy. So we must be able to attract and retain world-class talent to fill vacancies which cannot be filled by resident workers."

`We could expand our global reach'

City of Glasgow College already attracts students from across the globe, but a change in visa regulations would present it with even more opportunities for growth, according to principal Paul Little, pictured.

"Scotland has a lot to offer students from overseas, not just internationally recognised qualifications but a wide range of cultural and enrichment experiences," he says.

"As Scotland's largest college engaged in international activity, we already attract about 130 different nationalities each year, which enhances the day-to-day experience of all our students.

"However, the reintroduction of post-study work visas would allow us to expand our global reach, contribute to the Scottish economy and play our part in global student mobility."

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