The Scottish Government remains deeply concerned that the UK Government’s enforced changes to immigration rules are significantly impairing our colleges’ ability to attract talented students from around the world. I wrote to the UK immigration minister on 15 February about my concerns. He replied just last week, when he again outlined the rationale behind the UK Government changes. However, the Scottish Government continues to have concerns. Our colleges remain committed to further developing their portfolio of international activities. We will continue to do all that we can to support our colleges in the matter and to make clear our concerns to the UK Government.
The cabinet secretary has been writing to the UK Government about what I see as inherent discrimination in the treatment of further education colleges as compared with higher education institutions. After international students complete access courses such as higher national diplomas, they must go home to apply to university, rather than move straight on. I ask the cabinet secretary to continue to make the case to the UK Government, in the strongest possible terms, that Scotland’s colleges, such as South Lanarkshire College in East Kilbride, offer students unique access opportunities to higher education, which they should be able to offer to international students without the apparent discrimination in the current system.
The Scottish Government continues to be concerned and we will do all that we can on the implications of the tier 4 changes. Linda Fabiani raises a fundamental point about the role and potential of colleges. South Lanarkshire College, in her constituency, provides excellent HND opportunities that offer articulation into universities, an affordable fee structure and the ability for students to work part time in order to gain experience and support themselves.
We must remember that one of our largest colleges, City of Glasgow College, is a key provider of specialist higher education to international students. This year, more than 4,000 students from more than 130 countries are studying at that college.