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.

International Research: Scotland's world leading offer

Scotland’s world class university research and its key outputs of new knowledge and insights are fundamental in finding solutions to the most pressing global challenges, delivering the innovations that tackle climate change, food insecurity, improve health, and enable us to remain at the forefront of new technologies across a broad range of sectors. We aim to promote Scotland as a global research partner.

The quality of our research means that Scotland is a highly attractive and effective global partner– 55.4% of our research is undertaken with an international collaborator.[25] This interconnectedness supports the leverage of further funding, and allows for an exchange of knowledge, skills, and infrastructure, fostering innovation and competitiveness between Scotland and the world. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of international collaborations in delivering our own ambitions, and is committed to supporting the sector to build, strengthen and expand its global network.

Scotland’s research base has a global reputation for excellence, and each of Scotland’s universities conduct world leading research. The research undertaken at our universities is a key asset and export for Scotland. The international partnerships built by Scottish researchers are vital to driving the strength of our offering, opening access to new networks, expertise, and infrastructure; helping us to attract and retain the best talent, and leveraging further investment.

Strong global links and partnerships will be critical in transforming our economy and our society in key areas of national and international interest, including energy transition, health and life sciences, data and digital technologies, decarbonisation, space, agriculture, and advanced manufacturing. Thematic areas and geographies of particular interest to Scotland are captured in key Scottish Government strategies, including Scotland’s National Innovation Strategy[26], the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and the Inward Investment Plan[27]. These help to signal where we have significant clusters of Scottish expertise and investment, and support strategic partnership building with international collaborators, while recognising the Scottish research sector’s autonomy to pursue opportunities according to their own interests and expertise. They also signal the importance of academia and their ties to industry in stimulating inward investment and innovation and transforming Scotland’s economy.

3.1 We are committed to supporting universities to maintain and strengthen their collaborations domestically and internationally by continuing our investment into core university research and knowledge exchange to produce positive economic and social outcomes.

Scotland ranked top among the OECD counties for its Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) (public and private) spend as a percentage of GDP in 2021 (0.98%), above 0.42% in the OECD, 0.64% in the UK, and 0.47% for EU27. The Scottish Government will continue to support the research sector through the dual funding system by providing our higher education institutions with core flexible funding to build capacity to leverage further investment and pursue international opportunities and partnerships. This funding also supports initiatives such as Innovation Centres and Alliances for Research Challenges through the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which help to create a critical mass of excellence, and bring together leading academic and industry expertise in areas of global importance, such as energy transition and sustainability, food systems, healthy ageing, and quantum technologies.

The strength of expertise, infrastructure and regional, national, and international networks make Scotland highly competitive at leveraging additional funds. In 2021, research and development projects were the third largest focus for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Scotland and remain at historically high levels — with Scotland ranking joint second behind London for R&D FDI.24

Our research excellence also acts as a draw for talent, with around 38% of academic staff, including researchers, at Scottish universities coming from outside the UK27. With the end of EU freedom of movement, it is more important than ever for Scotland to remain a welcoming country. We recognise the vital importance of EU and global researchers in shaping and diversifying Scotland’s research landscape, and continuing to attract the very best researchers to Scotland will be essential in ensuring the future competitiveness of the sector.

As a nation, Scotland is committed to utilising research to help deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which we have embedded within our own targets and ambitions. According to a 2022 SFC report on Scotland’s Research Contribution to National and International Challenges, one third of Scotland’s research outputs were directly related to the SDGs in the last decade, tackling key global challenges such as world hunger, sanitation, and climate change.

The Scottish Government has supported the development of collaborative networks which have facilitated the sharing of expertise and maximised impact delivered by the sector. For example, our Arctic policy framework, Arctic Connections29, encourages greater collaboration between Scottish and Arctic institutions across multidisciplinary research, and our support for the UArctic research collaboration programme30 shares knowledge and expertise multilaterally across like-minded institutions. The Arctic Connection Fund has recently awarded 9 new projects in the latest round of calls from March 2023, covering areas as diverse as the space industry, inclusive education, maritime infrastructure, renewable energy, and rural tourism; and working with international partners based in Canada, US, Greenland, and other countries in the Nordic region.

In pursuing such international collaborations, it is vital that Scotland’s research sector is able to manage the associated risks, which are increasingly dynamic and growing in complexity. Guidance from the UK Government Research Advice Collaboration team and Universities UK has been developed to aid universities in conducting due diligence. This helps them to navigate the risks, whilst maximising the benefits associated with internationalisation.

3.2 We will work with the sector to maximise participation in the Horizon Europe programme, monitor Scottish institutions performance and continue to identify areas where further effort is required to amplify Scotland’s access to the programme.

We are committed to supporting Scottish universities to continue to tackle global challenges and produce positive economic and social outcomes. We will do this through our continued investment into core university research and knowledge exchange, and by supporting their efforts to maintain and strengthen their collaborations domestically and internationally.

Scotland is an active and valued partner in a large number of EU and rest of the world research collaborations and has secured significant funding as a result. For example, in Horizon 2020 we collaborated with over 150 countries and secured around 11% of the UK’s overall funding with 8% of the population share. Following the formal association of the UK to the European Commission’s largest Research and Innovation programme, Horizon Europe, we are committed to working with Scottish research and innovation communities, as well as with the UK Government and European Commission, to ensure the sector can fully capitalise on opportunities and continue to build the European partnerships which help drive Scotland’s strength and excellence in research.

3.3 We will work with our networks, through Connected Scotland and our international offices, to seek opportunities to increase network building and maximise the profile of the Scottish research sector to further international research links through events and inward and outward visits.

The Scottish Government recognises the importance and value of international collaborations in supporting our own ambitions and has funded a range of programmes to support international research collaboration over the years. For example, before access to Horizon was secured, the Scottish Government partnered with the SFC and Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) to deliver the Saltire Research Awards (SRA), to provide opportunities to build and strengthen networks with European researchers across 30+ EU Member States. SRAs led to new connections and multidisciplinary research in mutual areas of interest for over 200 projects. More recently, our ‘test and learn’ project will support international staff exchanges and help develop stronger partnerships between educational institutions.

In addition, the Scottish Government currently supports the following schemes:

  • The Scotland Asia Partnership for Higher Education Research (SAPHIRE) programme. This fund continues to support the enhancement and establishment of existing and new international research partnerships between Scottish universities and key partners in Asia, supporting progress on global challenges such as health inequalities and climate change. The programme provides the opportunity for connections that applicants may not have achieved otherwise, to expand their research networks, or further their research by strengthening an existing connection.
  • Connected Scotland provides a forum for further and higher education stakeholders in Scotland to come together to support the sector’s ambitions for globally connected research. The network facilitates events to foster new connections with partners with mutual interests.

The most recent engagement has created numerous opportunities for key stakeholders in Scotland to work closely with the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and DFG (German Research Foundation) to facilitate agreements and events around areas of mutual interest, such as renewable energy and biotechnology, and foster further Scottish-German collaboration.

The Scottish Government recognises visas and mobility remain a barrier to international collaboration. We remain committed to continuing to press the UK Government to ensure their immigration policy supports collaboration, and better fits with the research sector’s aspirations and needs. We will encourage the UK Government to reach a deep and generous mobility agreement with the EU when the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is reviewed. We will push for visa fees to be reconsidered, as this remains a major obstacle to attracting and retaining talent in Scotland and is a detriment to the UK’s own desire to be viewed as a science and technology superpower by 2030. Alongside this we will continue to work with UK Research Innovation (UKRI) to ensure a viable immigration system for researchers to move into and out of the UK and Scotland easily, through the UK’s Global Talent Visa.

Building the European University of the Future

University of Edinburgh and Una Europa.

University of Edinburgh is a founding member of the Una Europa alliance. Una Europa brings together eleven leading universities from all corners of Europe to forge a new path for education and research and to shape our shared future for the better. Spanning 500,000 students, over 100,000 staff, and 10 languages UNA Europa launched Europe’s first truly joint bachelor’s degree in 2023 – transcending boundaries of discipline, nation, and university to take international collaboration to the next level. The alliance has also taken its first steps towards a common research ecosystem underpinned by a shared research and innovation agenda. Guided by its 2030 Strategy, Una Europa is working towards a truly inter-university and pan-European campus, shaped by universities’ universal and fundamentally interwoven obligations to society: research and innovation, teaching and learning, and societal outreach.

This picture shows three students at the top of Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh

Conclusion and Next Steps

Scotland’s post school education and research excellence is a major component of Scotland’s soft power offering. The Scottish Government will deliver on the International Education Strategy by continuing to build links through our network of international offices and making education a key part of Ministers’ international engagements. We will promote Scotland’s teaching expertise, the benefits of studying in Scotland and the global value of our research work. We will also promote our willingness to enhance international partnerships.

More detailed implementation plans for each priority theme of the IES are being developed. These roadmaps will set out specific and measurable actions that we will prioritise to drive forward our shared ambitions. To ensure effective governance of the IES, we will establish an Implementation Group that will oversee progress as we work with our universities, colleges, and partner agencies to promote, enhance, and further develop Scotland’s offer and reputation for education and research excellence.



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