Scotland: a trading nation

A plan for growing Scotland's exports.

4.7 Enabling sectors

While this analysis is very useful in helping us understand the relative importance of, and opportunities available in, traditional sectors, it does not fully convey the importance of what we term ‘enabling sectors’. These are sectors which by their nature offer significant additional export and economic development opportunities through ‘technology push’ or ‘market pull’ factors that are often difficult to capture in raw export statistics. They do this by attracting customers, capital or skills to Scottish businesses, products and services across the wider economy.

We have identified three core enabling sectors – education, creative industries and tourism. The sections below outline a summary of these sectors. More details can be found alongside the other sector briefs for this plan.

4.7.1 Tourism

Tourism is an important export for Scotland. Using traditional figures on exports it is estimated that tourism exports are valued at £570mn (around 1.2% of all exports). However this does not take into account the full impact of the sector. The Scottish Government’s Growth Sector briefing for April 2019 indicates that 206,000 people were employed in the sustainable tourism sector in 2017. The ONS publication Travel Trends: 2017 also reports that:

  • In 2017, almost £2.3bn was spent by overseas visitors in Scotland; and
  • Over 3.2m overseas visitors came to Scotland in 2017.

Tourism also supports Scotland’s exports by giving tourists exposure to Scottish products which they may look to access back in their home countries – opening up potential new markets.

We will:

1. Continue to work closely with VisitScotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance to ensure that we are maximising the export potential of tourism.

2. Ensure that the business pillar of Scotland is Now/Brand Scotland recognises the key role that tourism plays in driving further exports.

4.7.2 Creative industries

The creative industries are industries that have their origin in individual creativity, imagination, and curiosity. Trading in products and services that have their roots in intangible cultural, expressive and emotional values, they create new insights, delights, products and experiences. The Scottish Government defines the sector as made up of 16 distinct industries: advertising; architecture; crafts and antiques; computer games; cultural education; design, fashion and textiles; film and video; libraries and archives; music; performing arts; photography; TV and radio; software and electronic publishing; writing and publishing and visual arts. 

Most creative businesses have an intrinsic international outlook and flourish as a result of international collaborations and connections. Trading in intangible values through, for example, music, film, design, publishing or computer games, they can reach international audiences and customers more easily than many other sectors. Cross-border collaboration between creative professionals is also fundamental to the free flow of creative ideas and expression and, ultimately, the continued development of the sector.

Creative businesses also play a key role in building brands and promoting Scotland on the world stage. They bring benefit to the wider economy by increasing business competitiveness and international distinctiveness.

We will:

• Work with the Creative Industries Advisory Group to support the wider impact of the creative industries on exports.

4.7.3 Education and skills

The higher and further education sectors make a significant contribution to Scotland’s exports. Course fees received by Scottish institutions, together with the spend on living costs and in the general economy made by foreign students, are included as part of Scotland’s export statistics. Also included is the value of courses delivered by Scottish institutions on international campuses or on digital platforms internationally.

These revenues of themselves make higher and further education a significant export earning sector for Scotland. Estimates suggests that international students bring a net economic contribution of £1.94bn(11).

In addition, our higher and further education sectors contribute indirectly to Scotland’s export performance in other ways, including:

1. International students, who provide a significant contribution to the Scottish economy and additionally students that stay on and work in Scotland, contribute to the businesses they become part of, particularly where those businesses are trading, or want to trade, in the country the student originates from;

2. Supporting business exports through innovation and research & development partnerships;

3. Through international research collaboration, which helps create stronger links to other markets, opening doors as well as driving up the quality of research in Scotland;

4. Through providing courses on exporting, helping to develop the exporting capabilities of Scottish businesses.

5. Through leveraging the extensive alumni network internationally as a source of business links to help Scottish exporters.

All of these areas bring substantial value to the Scottish economy. It is therefore important that the education sector is key to our aims of delivering increased exports.

We will:

1. Support Scottish universities and colleges to be the destination of choice for international students. This involves supporting education institutions in promoting their international offering under the ‘Scotland is Now’ brand. 

2. Work with Talent Scotland and Universities Scotland to identify ways to increase the number of international students choosing Scotland as a destination for study and to ensure Scotland retains a proportionate share of international graduates.

3. Support Scottish universities and colleges to access international opportunities and support our universities to build strategic research collaborations with markets that are investing heavily in research.

4. Work with our education institutions to ensure our workforce has the skills to support exporting, including leadership teams within businesses with the opportunity to export.

5. Support businesses to access professional training on exporting.

6. In light of the UK government International Education Strategy, work with DIT and the UK government’s Department for Education (DFE) in all relevant areas (including those mentioned above) to ensure that Scotland benefits from at least its proportionate share of growth in education exports.




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