Scotland eyes “world-leading” education with new international strategy


The plan, which was launched at Edinburgh Napier University on February 7 sets out the region’s ambition to work with its universities and colleges “to help diversify our international student population”, while also making sure they can “maximise their contribution” to the region. 

The long-awaited document “sets out our collective aim to create the conditions for our universities and colleges to continue to flourish”, according to Higher and Further Education minister in Scotland, Graeme Dey.

“Scotland already has more top universities per head of population than any other country in the world,” Dey said.

The strategy outlines actions under three ambitions. 

To help diversify’ the region’s international student population, the government will work through Brand Scotland to promote a “welcoming Scotland to prospective international students and staff”, as well as delivering a “Scottish Education Exchange Test and Learn Project” before the end of the academic year. 

This will be accompanied by a Talent Attraction and Migration Service that provides information about Scotland for those who are thinking of staying post-degree, and also generally encourage more students to stay in Scotland to work in the region’s “growth sectors”. 

The report highlights Scotland’s recognition as a “cultural and creative hub”, especially through its film, television, and gaming sectors, and as being a “world leader in research and innovation”.

“In the coming months and years, we will continue to work with Scotland’s universities and colleges to help them diversify their international student, research, and staff population by enhancing our reputation as a world-leading safe and inclusive country, with open-minded social policies,” added Dey.

To maximise the region’s social, educational and economic contribution on a global scale – the second ambition – the strategy read, “We will use our international offices and program of Ministerial visits to actively promote and grow Scotland’s world class transnational education”. 

In 2021/22, Scotland – with some 45,115 TNE students – accounted for 8.4% of the UK’s total TNE enrolments, HESA statistics show.

“We will continue to work… to promote our universities’ TNE offer globally, including with the UK government and the British Council… and building on our Scottish Connections Framework, we will work with our universities to engage alumni communities,” the strategy continued.

Scotland’s overall international student population makes up a quarter of the student body in the country.

In 2022/23, over 83,000 students from more than 180 countries were studying at institutions, the strategy said.

HESA stats show that the previous year, Scottish institutions welcomed 82,440 international students. As EU student numbers fell to 17,140 from 20,550 in 2020/21, the number of non-EU students grew to 65,300 from 47,630.

Overall international undergraduate students fell to 31,650 in 2021/22, while international postgraduates increased to 50,785 from 35,940 in the 2020/21 academic year.

Universities UK International’s report on international student economic contribution in the UK found that in 2021/22, their intake boosted the economy in Scotland by £4.75bn.

The Scottish Connections Framework is an existing platform the government launched in 2023 to engage better with the region’s diaspora, or “family and friends of Scotland globally”. 

“Scotland already has more top universities per head of population than any other country in the world”

In the final key ambition focusing on research capabilities, government says it will “maintain and strengthen” domestic and international collaborations with continued investment in core university research and knowledge exchange.

“In pursuing such international collaborations, it is vital that Scotland’s research sector is able to manage the associated risks, which are increasingly dynamic and growing in complexity,” it added.

The strategy also promises to maximise participating in the Horizon Europe program, which the UK has recently rejoined for the first time since Brexit, by identifying “areas where further effort is required to amplify Scotland’s access to the program”. 

“We will work with our networks, including Connected Scotland and our international offices, to increase network building, further international links and maximise the profile of the Scottish research sector, including through events and inward and outward visits,” the strategy added.

“It gives us a platform, working together with government and other partners, to further develop these positive links to strengthen the sector’s contribution to the economy, society and culture,” said Andrea Nolan, vice-chancellor of Edinburgh Napier and Universities Scotland International committee convenor.

“It also looks to deepen support for the full breadth of universities’ international role,” she added.

Peter Brown, director Scotland for British Council, welcomed the strategy, saying the organisation looks forward to promoting Scottish education internationally,

“Scottish universities and colleges continue to punch above their weight and have been able to take advantage of the strong reputation of the UK as an international study destination while offering a clear ‘Scottish differentiation’ and building international connections,” he said.

“It is important that we continue to look to the wider world in terms of education, both by showcasing Scotland and the rest of the UK as a world-class study destination and by fostering cultural and educational links and collaborations with other countries, thereby creating genuine mutual understanding and respect.”


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