Scotland's international education strategy

Scotland’s International Education Strategy sets out a framework to cement Scotland’s reputation as a world leader in education, research and knowledge exchange, working with universities and colleges to attract students and staff from outside the UK.

Destination Scotland – inward attraction of international students, staff, and researchers

Scotland welcomes international students, staff, and researchers, recognising the important and valuable contribution they make to the Scottish economy, our educational environment, our society, and our communities.

We will work with our universities and colleges to attract students, staff, and researchers from outside the UK; help diversify our international student population; and support them to maximise their contribution to Scotland, including by encouraging them to stay.

International students and staff bring a diverse range of views, expertise, and knowledge. They widen access to international networks and infrastructure that drive our research competitiveness.

Image shows an economics student at Abertay University

Our universities and colleges provide world class education, skills training, and overseas collaborations that bring education to developing countries. This allows Scotland to work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals by providing education, research, and innovation in other countries. Such initiatives are an important part of our overall inclusive, welcoming, and diverse educational environment, which actively promotes knowledge transfer and shared experience between nations.

The number of students choosing to study in a country different to their home nation has grown over the last two decades. This number currently sits at around 5.6 million students[7] and it is forecast to increase even further in the next decade[8]. Prospective students are faced with an increasing number of study destinations from which to choose, meaning competition across host countries is fierce and growing. Furthermore, the UK Government’s immigration rules may make Scotland a less viable option for those with dependents.

Scotland has proved popular as an international student destination with numbers increasing since 2013. In 2022/23 more than 83,000 students from over 180 different countries came to study at Scottish universities, and international students made up a quarter of the total student population.

The international student journey begins with the decision on where to study. A UCAS survey of 1,200 students applying to study in the UK in 2021 suggests that the most common motivation for students studying abroad is to experience life in a different country (chosen by 75% of respondents), suggesting that applicants are not solely focussed on the pursuit of academic excellence, but also on a well-rounded student experience.[9]

The 2023 IDP[10] report indicated that international students choose to study in Canada, Australia, the USA and then the UK (ranking fourth). Those that study in Scotland rather than other parts of the UK state that they do so because of its high quality of education, safety for international students and good employment opportunities (all above UK average).

1.1 We will work through Brand Scotland and Connected Scotland with our universities and colleges to promote a welcoming Scotland to prospective international students, staff, and researchers to enhance the sector’s profile at home and abroad, including with SG’s International Network.

Scotland attracts international students primarily because it boasts some of the best universities in the world and a world-class education system. Eleven of Scotland’s universities were in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024[11] for international outlook, demonstrating why Scotland is a destination of choice for students and academics from all over the world.

Scotland’s 4-year degree courses can provide international students with flexibility to explore course and subject options before settling on their final choice of degree; and our postgraduate masters courses are offered over a one-year period, providing better value for money than some competitor countries’ two-year courses. Our diverse universities and colleges offer over 4,500 courses in more than 150 subject groupings at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

We are recognised as a cultural and creative hub being world leading in culture and creativity through our film, television, and gaming sectors, and as a world leader in research and innovation.

Scotland has a world-renowned reputation for providing a warm, friendly, and open welcome to everyone. It has a cost of living up to 46% lower than London, and is viewed as a safe and inclusive society.[12] In addition, Scotland’s vast outdoor environment means that in 2019, over 65% of adults in Scotland lived within a 5-minute walk of their nearest green or blue space.[13]

The Scottish Government has co-invested with Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland, through Connected Scotland[14], to produce targeted international campaigns and promotions that increase global awareness of the Scottish international education brand. As part of this work, SG have invested in the Study in Scotland section of[15], and with Connected Scotland, to profile our unique university and college offer.

Brand Scotland is the marketing and communications collaboration between the Scottish Government, Visit Scotland, Scotland Development International, Universities Scotland, Scotland Food and Drink, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Creative Scotland. As a partnership, Brand Scotland unites Scotland’s international communications to increase the impact and effectiveness of all this work, building Scotland’s global reputation as a leading global citizen and a dynamic, fair, and inclusive country in which to live, work, visit, study and do business.

As part of this overall brand strategy, the study pillar delivers a marketing and communications programme that promotes Scotland as a safe and welcoming place to study, encouraging students from across the world to use one of Scotland’s institutions. Connected Scotland support the marketing and promotion of international higher education and work with Brand Scotland to co-create campaigns and assets to target student recruitment in key international markets.

Marketing activity for 22-23 was built around the creative proposition of ‘Come to study, find Scotland’ aimed at both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The activity was agreed with the Universities Scotland Branding Group and reached prospective students in a range of countries including China, India, Nigeria, Ghana, Germany, and France.

Utilising Brand Scotland's partner framework also helps promote the longer-term opportunities of post-study employment and migration, with the live/work pillar showcasing the range of career opportunities across Scotland.

Brand Scotland’s future programme of marketing activity will embed student experiences within this audience-led approach as we continue to tell the story of Scotland. The International Student Campaign will also align with Brand Scotland’s new brand positioning, ‘Head, Heart and Spirit’. This will bring out some of the unique elements that Scotland offers prospective students, including world leading courses, connections to innovative industries and growth sectors, and our distinct culture and inclusivity.

Additionally, we will use our marketing and promotional tools to shine a light on the many areas of skills provision where Scotland’s colleges are leading the way, in particular, in sectors identified in A Trading Nation[16]. Through highlighting the world-class training options in these subject areas, we are sending a clear message that Scotland has a responsive, industry aligned skills base, which is a powerful attraction for inward investors and international students alike.

Furthermore, prospective students want to hear from current students or alumni about their study experience in Scotland. Connected Scotland will continue to develop the Study in Scotland section of, including adding a "Student Experience" section to showcase videos of international students discussing practical advice and highlight the benefits studying in Scotland brought to their future career prospects.

SG and our universities and colleges can connect globally through partnerships with the British Council, through our Trade and Investment Envoy for Education’s joint work with the UK Government’s International Education Champion. In addition to working collaboratively with the UK Government’s International Education Champion, it is also important that we are showcasing the distinct education offer in Scotland, alongside the broader Brand Scotland messaging.[17]

This picture shows a student testing a virtual reality kit at Abertay University

L’Etudiant Study Abroad Fair in Paris, France

The Scottish higher education sector was represented at the L'Etudiant Study Abroad Fair in Paris by "Team Scotland," which included nine Scottish universities, Connected Scotland, Universities Scotland, and the support of the Scottish Government.

The primary goal in attending the fair was to promote Scottish undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities to potential French applicants. Approximately 4,000 French students attended the fair, exceeding all initial expectations and indicating a high level of interest in Scottish higher education.

The Deputy First Minister, Shona Robison MSP, attended the fair and she talked to students, helped promote Scotland and was keen to see how partnerships like Connected Scotland, and its work with Brand Scotland, can open new international opportunities for Scottish Higher Education through collegiate activities. She praised the Connected Scotland partnership and the work it was doing to bring Scottish universities together in their international outreach activities and highlighted the importance of maintaining the strong links that both Scotland and Scottish universities have with France and Europe.

1.2 We will deliver a Scottish Education Exchange Test and Learn project in 23/24 and will build on this to develop a Scottish Education Exchange Programme.

Working jointly with universities and colleges we will actively promote available international scholarship programmes such as Fulbright, Chevening, GREAT, Commonwealth, the Erasmus Mundus programme and those available at Scottish universities through an improved digital study content on

SG recognises the importance of both inward and outward educational exchanges, and will continue to work with our universities, colleges, and the UK Government on its Turing Scheme (for outward student exchange) to ensure it can best fit Scotland’s needs. Student and staff international exchanges[18] can help students and staff make global connections and build networks, take them out of their comfort zone, and support them in becoming more globally aware, adaptable, and employable. In 2023-24, working with our universities and colleges, we have introduced an Education Exchange ‘test and learn’ programme to try and repair some of the damage that has been caused by being fully able to access Erasmus+, and to strengthen our global international links by supporting the outward exchange of staff and researchers. An evaluation will be undertaken of the scope of the pilot and the application process.

As set out in the 2023 Programme for Government, we have committed to build on this initial ‘test and learn’ programme, prioritising placements for disadvantaged groups and further demonstrating our commitment to EU and global partnerships through colleges, universities, and schools. The project will not be able deliver the full benefits of the Erasmus+ programme, but until such a time as the Scottish Government’s ambition to rejoin Erasmus+ is achieved, it will support international staff exchanges and develop stronger partnerships between educational institutions.

1.3 We will launch a Talent Attraction and Migration Service (TAMS) in 2024 that provides information and advice for students considering staying in Scotland post-qualifying.

Scotland faces significant demographic challenges, and our Ministerial Population Taskforce[19] continues to take forward a cross-cutting approach to this in delivering on Scotland’s Population Strategy[20], published in March 2021.

Scotland’s population growth is projected to come solely from inward migration over the next 25 years, so we must take action to ensure we have a large enough working age population with the skills to meet the needs of our economy and public services.

Talent attraction and inward migration are essential for Scottish communities given the current and future demographic challenges that Scotland seeks to address. International students, staff and researchers represent a potential future pool of talented individuals that can be attracted to the workforce.

Scotland’s colleges and universities are vital to the training and accreditation of our highly skilled workforce. The international education sector enables Scotland to supplement its domestic skills base with the best of global talent, ensuring a high-quality supply of graduates and researchers with highly sought-after skills and qualifications across the Scottish economy.

However, in the face of increasing competition from other countries for the best global talent, the UK’s immigration system must be improved to allow Scotland to retain students after graduation and allow them to join the workforce or to set up their own businesses, through an inclusive migration system which meets Scotland’s future needs.

We need an immigration system that supports our higher education sector to deliver the best learning, the best research, and the best experience for the most able students, anywhere in the world, who choose to study in Scotland.

The Fresh Talent post-study work visa which ran from 2004 to 2008 was the first time the UK immigration system was tailored to meet Scotland’s needs. It was subsequently mainstreamed across the whole of the UK, before being abolished by the coalition government in 2012.

Encouraging international graduates of our institutions to live and work in Scotland long-term remains an essential element of our focus on population. The new five-year ‘Scottish Connections’ visa (described below) would replace the two-year poststudy work visa the Westminster government currently offers. Therefore, international graduates of Scottish universities could apply straight after their studies to stay in Scotland to live and work for a further five years.

Under the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland, international students would be able to apply and stay in Scotland to live and work here for five years after the end of their studies through a ‘Scottish Connections’ visa. This would also mean graduates who live overseas can return to Scotland on this route.

In 2024, we will launch a Talent Attraction and Migration Service (TAMS) to provide immigration information and advice to employers recruiting people from out with Scotland. TAMS will also support individuals who are moving, or have recently moved, to Scotland. The service will support international students in Scotland by providing information on visa routes, including graduate visas. For individuals who are already here, we will ensure that they are aware of and have access to information that will help them move from study to work. This will include career advice provided by Skills Development Scotland.

1.4 We will encourage and support international students to stay in Scotland post qualifying to work in Scotland’s growth sectors.

Attracting talent is essential to increasing innovation, supporting inward investment, meeting skills gaps in our labour market, and addressing population challenges. Our universities and colleges welcome staff and researchers from across the globe to work and live in Scotland. Almost two out of every five (38%) academic staff at Scottish universities come from outside of the UK - this is higher than the UK (around 32%).27 This is testament to the world-class international reputation of our universities and colleges, and the quality of the opportunities that they provide in an increasingly highly competitive global market.

Retaining international students post qualifying brings diversity and innovation to our workforce and helps deliver a pipeline of skilled workers to employers across the country. Going forward, we will work with universities, colleges, employers, and students themselves to help make connections between study and work. We will ensure students and employers are aware of current visa options and continue to press the UK Government for a migration system that meets the needs of Scotland.

International Student and Employer Engagement

Since 2016, The Glasgow School of Art Winter School has brought together students, invited experts, researchers, and faculty from leading creative institutions around the world for an annual event hosted by The School of Innovation and Technology at GSA’s Highlands and Islands campus in Forres. A platform for sharing with writers, designers, students, and academics across Europe and beyond, Winter School participants engage in collaborative design practice that spans different cultures, languages, and disciplines.

Now in its ninth year, the event is an evolving prototype in international and cross-cultural education “beyond the curriculum”, bringing together students from Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Bratislava, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and China – both virtually and in person.

Winter School is attended by School of Innovation and Technology postgraduate students, along with their peers from a range of international partner schools. Alongside leading industry experts and academics, they explore new ways for design to address contemporary ecological, cultural, and technological issues, challenging contemporary and future notions of design practice. The school’s strong relationship with the local community in The Highlands and Islands provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively with people from the area, design academics and contributors from economic and political life to identify collaboratively areas where design and innovation can help improve life in rural communities.

Since 2016 the international partnership prototype has rapidly evolved, temporarily moving onto digital platforms during COVID but has now developed into an extended hybrid approach. For 2024 the initial online phase of Winter School 2024 on this year’s theme Place, Soil and Care in January develops into a second in situ phase in April.

Picture shows image of students at Glasgow School of Art's Winter School exchange programme

Standing with Ukraine

The University of Edinburgh and Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (KNU) forged a strong and equitable strategic partnership in 2022. This collaborative partnership has been a catalyst for rich and impactful academic and cultural interchanges between our two institutions and cities. The partnership not only supports the current needs of Ukrainian education and innovation but also the longer-term, reciprocal strategic objectives of our two institutions and nations beyond the current crisis.

We’ve hosted colleagues and students in-person and online seminars and labs and provided seed funding for research proposals, skills, and resource development. Staff and students have visited Edinburgh for collaborative projects, shared teaching and more. Edinburgh has hosted KNU students who were urgently in need of access to labs and facilities closed to them due to the conflict. Activities continue to evolve and look ahead and have been strengthened by funding from the UUK International grant scheme launched as part of the UK-Ukraine Twinning Initiative.



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