Connected Scotland was launched yesterday in Edinburgh following calls by the British Council Scotland for institutions north of the border to sell themselves overseas as distinct from English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities.
The announcement comes with fewer than 100 days to go before the referendum on Scottish independence. Some advocates of a “yes” vote in September believe that a fully independent Scottish government could better promote Scotland’s universities abroad.
Connected Scotland, which is comprised of the country’s 19 universities and other bodies including the British Council Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and the Edinburgh government, aims to help grow the value of university exports from £1.3 billion currently to £2 billion in 2017.
The vast majority of this export income is earned through international students coming to Scotland to study. But in 2012-13, the number of higher education students at UK institutions from outside the European Union fell by 1 per cent, the first fall on record, with some blaming tougher visa rules and negative government rhetoric on immigration.
The Scottish education secretary Michael Russell has attacked the coalition’s immigration policy as “xenophobic” and pledged to bring back scrapped post-study work visas for international students if Scotland wins independence.
The first priorities for Connected Scotland are to establish Scottish higher education “more prominently” in priority countries such as Brazil, China, Malaysia, Mexico and Columbia, according to a statement about the launch.
Universities are not only looking to attract more students from these countries but also set up research and knowledge exchange links too.
In 2013, a report by the British Council Scotland, A Strategic Analysis of the Scottish Higher Education Sector’s Distinctive Assets, argued that the country should do more to promote its universities as distinct from the rest of the UK.
Lloyd Anderson, director of British Council Scotland, said: “The Scottish higher education system has a number of distinctive characteristics, among which are four-year undergraduate degrees and particularly high levels of student satisfaction. The British Council’s advice to universities anywhere in the UK is to make the most of their assets.”