The impact of international students in Scotland: Scottish Government response

This publication analyses the economic, social and cultural contribution of international students to Scotland.


Our position

International students have an overwhelmingly positive impact on Scotland's economy and society. They play a vital role in making Scotland an outward-looking country, enhancing its skills base and building connections with the wider world. We extend a warm welcome to those coming to study in Scotland and hope that many will continue to choose to live here.

International students make a valuable direct economic contribution to educational institutions. The income from international students in higher education institutions, particularly tuition fees paid by students from outside the EU, has grown consistently and significantly in recent years, directly supporting employment at institutions and providing a valuable income stream to support a wide range of teaching and research activity.

The benefits of international students to the wider economy are considerable. Both EU and non- EU international students spend money on accommodation, travel and a wide range of other living and recreational expenses. This amounts to tens of thousands of pounds for each individual student, contributing hundreds of millions of pounds to the Scottish economy. This vastly outweighs the costs of providing public services such as healthcare and education for students and their dependents, as well as the cost to the Scottish Government of paying tuition fees for eligible EU students.

International students support the range and quality of education provision in Scotland. A multicultural, multinational learning environment is beneficial for all students who participate in it, raising cultural awareness and a global perspective among domestic students. These skills are valued by business. The recruitment of international students also allows educational institutions to exploit economies of scale and support the viability of some courses, particularly in some science, technology and engineering-related disciplines, ensuring that they remain available for domestic students to study.

International students support Scotland's reputation and visibility overseas. Graduates from Scottish institutions who move overseas take with them an awareness of and affection for Scotland, along with contacts and connections that may be of value in their future careers. This network is reinforced and sustained by institutions' own alumni engagement activity, bringing both direct benefits to the institutions and broader benefits to Scotland's international economic, social and cultural connections.

International students are a potentially valuable longer-term resource for Scotland's workforce. Inward migration is essential for the Scottish economy given the demographic challenges that Scotland faces. International students represent a future pool of talented individuals who can be drawn into the workforce. Scotland currently does well in attracting students to Scottish institutions. But in the face of increasing competition from other countries for the best global talent, the UK's immigration system has to be improved to allow Scotland to retain students after graduation and draw them into the workforce, through an inclusive migration system which includes a post study work offer that meets Scotland's needs.

About this paper

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's response to the call for evidence launched by the UK Migration Advisory Committee ( MAC) on the impacts of international students in the UK.

This paper follows the themes set out in the call for evidence:

  • Chapter one describes the profile of the international student body in Scotland.
  • Chapter two provides information about the direct economic impact of international students in terms of student fees, loan arrangements, support for employment in educational institutions and spending by migrant students in the wider economy.
  • Chapter three assesses the educational, social and cultural impact of migrant students on Scotland. This includes the effect on the teaching and learning experience in educational institutions; the impact on educational opportunities to UK students; and the contribution of international students to social and cultural life in educational institutions and wider society.
  • Chapter four considers the impact of migrant students on the provision of public services such as housing, transport and health. It also examines their effect on tourism and other aspects of the economy beyond education.
  • Chapter five looks at the role of migrant students in the labour market.


Email: * Ed Thomson

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