Scots to lure foreign talent

February 6, 2004

Scottish universities hope to boost overseas student recruitment under plans being discussed by the Scottish Executive and Home Office, writes Olga Wojtas.

There is growing speculation that the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent initiative, designed to combat Scotland's dwindling population, will include a relaxation of visa restrictions for overseas students who want to work in Scotland once they graduate.

Visas are generally extended for only a few months following graduation, but while regulation on UK work permits is expected to be relaxed for graduates in certain disciplines, Scotland seems poised for greater concessions.

Jack McConnell, Scotland's first minister, is expected to unveil the Fresh Talent scheme before Easter. It will include a "one-stop shop" advising on educational opportunities, visas, work permits and accommodation.

Mr McConnell has already said universities would be a key partner in the scheme since an important target audience was students from outside Scotland.

Last autumn, he told a Confederation of British Industry Scotland conference: "More than 5,000 overseas students graduate from Scottish universities each year, and thousands more from the rest of the UK.

"It is time for government to say to them: 'Stay in Scotland, you are welcome, you can have a fantastic quality of life here, and there are good employers out there who would love to have you.'"

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said it had already raised the question of extended visas for overseas graduates.

"Every university in Scotland can give examples of skilled graduates who came to Scotland to study and now want to stay.

"These people would make a significant contribution to the economy, but too often the rules stop them. Any moves that would help retain more foreign graduates would be greatly welcomed."

Research by Strathclyde University last year showed that overseas students and academics in Scotland contribute £210 million to the Scottish economy, excluding tuition fees and living costs.

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