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I begin by referencing page 236 of the industrial strategy White Paper, which specifically mentions the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. I look forward to hearing—shortly, I hope—about the heads of agreement that have been reached with the Scottish Government and local authorities so that the deal can be brought to life.
The subject is fascinating and I am sorry that there is so little time to talk about the industrial strategy. I want to concentrate on one aspect that I think is critical to its execution. We cannot overestimate the role of the UK universities sector in the successful execution of any industrial strategy worthy of the name. It remains a jewel in the UK’s reputational crown. British universities are among the very best and people across the world aspire to attend them, such is the reputation of the quality of the education on offer.
Building close links between the universities and business is vital. Those links are the springboard for invention, innovation and new business creation. As a member of the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I visited the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, where the partnership between the university and Boeing has attracted the engagement of dozens of other business across the sector, solving problems and driving increases in productivity. That is a model for high-level collaboration between universities, academics and industry to enable the delivery of the industrial strategy. Sheffield has become a centre of excellence in design, machining, casting, welding, composites and so much more. It was inspiring to see how all that is being achieved. It gave a vision of what can be done when we put our minds to it.
We need to leverage the international excellence of UK universities to make the UK a global hub for ideation, invention, discovery, innovation and commercialisation.
Stirling University is the second largest employer in my constituency and we have welcomed some 2,600 overseas students who pay between £15,000 and £17,000 a year. Stirling University is therefore, to my mind, one of our great exporters. The Higher Education Policy Institute estimates that there is a £52 million net positive impact on Stirling from those students.
I recently visited the INTO international student facility at Stirling University where I met several of the international students. It came as no surprise to me that they had chosen to make Stirling their home because, 36 years ago, I did the same. However, I only came from Forfar, which, as my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair, who is not here, would doubtless attest, is still part of the United Kingdom.
We seem to make it too difficult for students to come here. We make people jump through hoops and undertake expensive and extensive screening and other requirements that very few other countries do. We are losing our market share in an expanding global market. The UK’s reputation as a university destination choice is not what it should be. Chinese students are going to Canada, the United States and Australia rather than here. Those countries have targets to attract international students, and we can learn from that.
Time is against me. My appeal to the Government is: make it easier for students. It is time for students to be taken out of the Government’s net immigration target. Student visas should be easier, not harder to obtain. We should build on the great strength of the UK universities sector as a path to executing the Government’s industrial strategy.