The impact of international students in Scotland: Scottish Government response

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

Chapter Three - Educational, Social and Cultural Impact of International Students

The impact of international students on the educational opportunities for students in Scotland is hard to quantify. However, there is broad consensus among stakeholders in Scotland that exposure to a multicultural and multinational environment in educational institutions brings benefits for students. These include an enriched learning experience and international outlook among home students and graduates. These make an important contribution to ensuring the connectivity of Scotland's economy and society to the global exchange of people, ideas and trade.

For these reasons, employers value students' exposure to an international environment. The British Council reported that 79 per cent of business leaders in the UK said that knowledge and awareness of the wider world was important to them when recruiting undergraduates and 85 per cent said they valued employees that could work with customers, clients and companies from a range of cultures and countries. [23]

A survey conducted for the Higher Education Policy Institute in 2015 suggests that students are also aware of the importance of a global outlook for their careers. It showed that 86% of undergraduate students in UK higher education institutions reported that they study alongside international students. For Scotland, the figure was 95%. Three quarters of the respondents to the survey agreed that studying alongside people from other countries "is useful preparation for working in a global environment." [24]

Scotland's HEIs have taken steps to ensure that they support internationalisation; the evidence suggests with some success. When asked in a survey by the British Council if they thought they had an international outlook, 73 per cent of undergraduate students in Scotland thought they did to some or a large extent compared to 63 per cent of students at university in England. [25]

It is worth noting that the social and cultural contribution of international students goes beyond the institutions at which they study. Migration in general, including the presence of international students in our communities, enriches our culture and strengthens our society. There is also some evidence to suggest that migrants increase qualities of tolerance, inclusiveness and openness to intercultural learning amongst Scottish citizens. [26]

Sustainability of educational opportunities

As noted in chapter two, the proportion of international students among institutions and courses varies considerably. Subjects such as engineering and technology, computer science and business administration generally have a high proportion of international students, particularly so at postgraduate level. International students can account for as much as 60-70% or more of those enrolled in some subjects at some institutions. In such cases institutions might not consider it viable to run these courses without the participation of international students. Domestic students therefore benefit from access to a range of courses that might not otherwise be available.

Percentage of international enrolments at Scottish HEIs split by subject and level of study, 2016-17 [27]

  % of international enrolments All enrolments
Subject area Undergraduate Postgraduate All levels Undergraduate Postgraduate All levels
(1) Medicine & dentistry 17% 29% 20% 5,720 1,920 7,640
(2) Subjects allied to medicine 8% 19% 11% 22,025 8,140 30,165
(3) Biological sciences 16% 40% 20% 19,410 3,525 22,935
(4) Veterinary science 47% 36% 46% 1,385 160 1,545
(5) Agriculture & related subjects 6% 37% 17% 1,355 770 2,125
(6) Physical sciences 16% 45% 22% 9,085 2,685 11,770
(7) Mathematical sciences 22% 64% 29% 3,685 645 4,330
(8) Computer science 20% 53% 27% 9,205 2,400 11,600
(9) Engineering & technology 18% 54% 26% 15,790 4,830 20,620
(A) Architecture, building & planning 21% 46% 29% 3,965 1,855 5,820
(B) Social studies 21% 44% 25% 16,435 3,905 20,335
(C) Law 11% 43% 20% 5,905 2,520 8,425
(D) Business & administrative studies 20% 64% 34% 22,355 10,105 32,460
(E) Mass communications & documentation 18% 36% 24% 2,365 1,125 3,495
(F) Languages 23% 55% 27% 10,155 1,615 11,770
(G) Historical & philosophical studies 14% 45% 20% 9,215 2,075 11,285
(H) Creative arts & design 14% 48% 19% 10,380 1,835 12,215
(I) Education 2% 12% 8% 6,615 8,625 15,240
(J) Combined 3% 17% 3% 8,075 95 8,165
Total 16% 40% 22% 183,105 58,825 241,935

Some international students may also be recruited to the teaching, research and administrative staff of universities after completing their course. 19% of staff at Scottish institutions were from the EU and 14% from outside the EU, though there is no data available to indicate what proportion of them initially came to Scotland as undergraduate students.

The available evidence strongly suggests that international students in Scotland make a valuable contribution to achieving the Scottish Government's ambition, set out in the International Framework, that our people are better able to engage in a global world; engaged in international exchange and learning opportunities; and are aware of the international environment and Scotland's place in the world. [28] International students also play an important role in sustaining the provision of higher education, particularly at a postgraduate level in science and engineering-related subjects.


Email: * Ed Thomson

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