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 Four – Impact on Public Services and Wider Economy

International student demand on public services

A Migration Observatory Briefing of October 2017 reported that international students make less use of healthcare and social services compared to the average UK resident. [29] This is to be expected, as access to some forms of social services is limited for non- EU international students, and students are more likely to be on average younger than the general population and less dependent on health and social care services. Student households also tend to have fewer dependents than those in the wider community.

The report published by London Economics on behalf of the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways in January 2018 estimated the public costs of hosting international students in 2015-16 to be £19,000 for each EU-domiciled student and £7,000 for each non- EU domiciled student. This estimate included teaching grants and tuition fee support, healthcare, housing, education for dependent children and a range of other public services and is considerably less than the estimated economic contribution of £87,000 for each EU domiciled student and £102,000 for each non- EU international student. [30]

Impact on tourism and visitor numbers

Oxford Economics estimated that in 2014-15 visitors to international students at HEIs in the UK spent £520 million, with particular benefits for the transport, hospitality, cultural and recreational sectors with secondary benefits to the wider economy. As Scotland accounted for 11% of international students in the UK in 2014-15, that would suggest that visitors to international students in Scotland generated in the region of £57 million in that year.

The analysis published by London Economics in January 2018 estimated that each EU first-year student attracted 3 visits from family and friends at an average spend of £296 per trip, and 0.9 visits by non- EU international students at an average of £822 per trip. Based numbers at Scottish HEIs in 2015-16, that would represent approximately £41 million of spending from visitors to international students in Scotland.

These analyses are based on different methodologies but both suggest that the presence of international students at Scottish educational institutions generates a significant economic benefit for the tourism, hospitality and associated sectors.

Extending influence abroad

International students support the long-term development of Scotland's reputation and influence abroad. Work by the British Council has shown that attending an educational institution is one of the most important cultural activities for developing trust among people from other countries. Students who have studied in the UK are more likely to have a higher level of trust of British people. [31] A survey by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that 90% of international graduates had an improved perception of the UK as a result of being educated at a UK institution. [32]

The Scottish Government's International Policy Statement recognises the value of the diaspora who raise the profile of Scotland and help to promote social, cultural, academic and economic links with other countries. International alumni of Scottish further and higher education institutions who have returned home or moved on to other countries are a valuable part of this diaspora both in terms of their numbers and the fact that they are, almost by definition, highly educated and experienced in living and working in a global context.

Engagement with alumni of Scottish HEIs is an important part of the Scottish Government's internationalisation objectives. The Scottish Government's Trade & Investment Strategy commits to "strengthen engagement with the international university alumni community including the new diaspora of international students who return home as ambassadors for Scotland." [33]

Scotland's Saltire Scholarship programme, established in 2009, has sought to attract and engage international students in order to develop an alumni network to support connections between Scotland and priority countries in areas including trade, investment, education and culture. The GlobalScots network, managed by Scottish Enterprise, actively seeks out and works with business leaders and other influential figures with a connection to Scotland, including many who are alumni of Scottish institutions. Members of the network have been instrumental in securing a number of trade and investment successes for the Scottish economy.

The costs incurred in providing public services to international students in Scotland are generally less than those for the wider population, and are significantly outweighed by the benefits that they bring. These benefits include raising the visibility and reputation of Scotland internationally by attracting additional visitors (which also brings direct economic benefits), building trust among those who spend time studying in Scotland, and building a network of well-educated and influential alumni who can support economic, social and cultural links with other countries.


Email: * Ed Thomson

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