Jump to content

Foreign Students Could Do Scotland A World Of Good

We must encourage our non-EU students to stay here and inject their expertise back into the Scottish economy, says Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

Entrepreneurism in Scotland has come a long way in the past decade.

Ten years ago we were still adjusting to the idea that celebrating wealth creation was a good thing. Since then a new generation of business leaders have emerged who have demonstrated that Scotland can produce world-leading entrepreneurs.

And part of this success story has been the organisations that foster and encourage entrepreneurism in our midst.

I am indebted to the Entrepreneurial Exchange as well as individuals such as Sir Bill Gammell, chairman of Genius Foods, who have been unceasing in their support and guidance.

The Saltire Foundation gives Scottish graduates the skills to start and run global businesses, and the whole Scottish business community recognises the absolute requirement to support entrepreneurs at a grass-roots level.

At the university level, organisations such as the Scottish Institute for Enterprise are backing our students to become business leaders.

But while so many initiatives are bearing dividends, the situation could be so much healthier if we did more to encourage top graduates to remain in Scotland once they have finished their studies.

Scottish universities are among the best in the world and 40,000 international students from more than 180 countries study here every year. More than half that number are from non-EU countries and they are typically here to study the sciences, computing, engineering, IT and other subjects that are most in demand by Scottish employers.

And according to a recent report by British Council Scotland, foreign students rate Scotland as the best country in the world for overall learning satisfaction. By this yardstick, Scottish universities are officially the best in the world.

So far so good. However, the fly in the ointment is that far too many of these students then disappear back to their countries of origin rather than injecting their learnt expertise into the Scottish economy.

According to the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, Scotland will need thousands of skilled engineers, managers and technicians to fill future opportunities in the creative industries, energy, financial and business services, food and drink, life sciences and tourism.

This is not a uniquely Scottish problem and the same issue exists for the rest of the UK.

While non-EU graduates can apply to work for established UK companies that can afford to jump through the work visa-related hoops, there is not enough encouragement given to these bright, young and energetic people to set up their own businesses.
We keep getting reminded that Scottish businesses have to compete in the global economy, so why not encourage all Scottish university graduates - not just EU nationals - to create companies here?

That is a question aimed at the government in Westminster, as all policy relating to immigration is under the jurisdiction of MPs rather than MSPs.
I am not trying to score political points - my only interest in the topic is as an entrepreneur who sees the clear benefits of fostering wealth creation in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The UK does operate what is known as a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, which is designed for non-EU university leavers who want to remain in the UK to set up businesses. The visa application process, which was introduced last year following the abolition of a previous system that stopped graduates from applying for work once their studies were completed, has been plagued by lengthy backlogs in granting successful applications, although there are now signs that matters are improving.
But there is a big difference between asking non-EU graduates to fill out a 41-page application form in order to stay in the UK and actively promoting business creation in the UK as a career choice. It would be fantastic if Scottish businesses put additional weight behind organisations such as the Saltire Foundation that encourage all our young people to inject their expertise, energy and skills into the local economy by becoming entrepreneurs.

Not only would it support our wonderful academic institutions by providing greater opportunities for students upon graduation, it would also boost our business start-up rates and I suspect boost inward investment into the economy as well.

And encouraging foreign graduates to set up businesses in Scotland won't threaten the job prospects for Scottish youngsters. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, just 2.5% of Scottish graduates were unemployed three years after finishing their studies, compared with a UK average of 3.3%. Scottish graduates enjoy average salaries of £26,000 compared with a UK average of £25,500.

The Scottish government estimates that every 1,000 extra graduates working in Scotland boosts the country's economy by an estimated £10m and supports about 200 jobs.

All of which indicates that the Scottish economy has the capacity to make use of significantly more skilled graduates.

Registered in Scotland. Company registration number SC483869.
Registered office: 13 Queen's Road, Aberdeen, AB15 4YL. Developed by Mercurytide