How bonny does Scotland appear to foreign beaux?

Economists dispute degree to which universities attract overseas investors. David Matthews writes

September 26, 2013

Universities Scotland has been accused by economists of “misrepresenting” figures in a report that claims to show the importance of its members in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).

On 31 August, the body that represents higher education institutions north of the border released a report that states that Scotland’s universities had been cited as a “major determinant in as many as 45 per cent” of such projects.

An accompanying press release puts it slightly differently: universities “play a role” in “close to half” of FDI projects, its headline says.

The report’s evidence for this is a Financial Times survey of FDI projects which found that 39 per cent of those who responded said that a “skilled workforce” was one of the reasons why they set up in Scotland.

Another 6 per cent said they had chosen their location to be near university researchers, according to Grow, Export, Attract, Support: Universities’ Contribution to Scotland’s Economic Growth.

But Nigel Driffield, a professor at Aston University Business School with a research interest in FDI, pointed out that many of the projects “require technical skills that are often non-degree level”.

Therefore, claiming that universities could take all the credit for a skilled workforce in Scotland was making a link “more directly than the data support”, he said.

Another economist, who did not wish to be named, said: “Not for the first time, a press office appears to have misrepresented/hyped up what the report says.”

He added that it was incorrect to add together the percentages of companies who had cited a skilled workforce and the proximity of university researchers “as in many cases these will be multiple [ticks] by the same company”.

Professor Driffield declared that he did not believe that local universities were likely to be much of a draw for companies thinking of setting up in the UK because wherever they chose to base themselves, “Cambridge, Oxford or Imperial is not that far [away]”.

A third economist, who also wished to remain anonymous, said it was “notoriously difficult to decompose growth…into separate areas and attribute to each its numerical contribution”.

But he countered that although the influence of universities was “often intangible” it was also “highly pervasive” and he did not have a “major problem” with the report’s claim.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Our report rightly points out that universities play a direct role in providing Scotland with a skilled workforce, the availability of which is cited as a key motive by 39.4 per cent of foreign companies choosing to invest in our nation.”

A “broad range” of companies had cited graduate skills and university research as factors in their decision to set up in Scotland, he said.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy