The continued ambiguity of the United Kingdom Government on the future immigration status of EU students and, for that matter, students from across the world is hampering planning by universities in Scotland. We have responded to university and student concerns by ensuring that current eligible EU undergraduate students and those starting courses next year will continue to be entitled to free tuition. However, the UK Government urgently needs to share its plans on the immigration status of EU and other students.
In 2014-15, more than 13,000 EU nationals studying full-time degrees at Scottish universities were funded from the same public pot as Scottish students. Audit Scotland has recognised that Scottish students are finding it increasingly difficult to access university. If—it is of course only if—EU student numbers fall, will the Government be better placed to meet its target for getting more Scottish students from poor backgrounds into university
, or will it continue to fail on that front?
The number of Scotland-domiciled students from poor communities is rising and the Government is committed to ensuring that we follow all the recommendations of the commission on widening access, which will improve the situation still further.
It beggars belief that the Conservatives are asking the Government to make a policy on the issue when we do not know what the immigration status of EU nationals will be, when any change will happen, whether it will happen at all and what the timetable is for any of the Brexit negotiations. Given that background from the UK Government, it is a bit rich of the member to ask the Scottish Government a hypothetical question and to ask us to take a decision on EU national students.
The minister makes a valid point. Does she agree that it is rich for a Tory member to ask the Scottish Government about the impact of something that his colleagues in the UK Government have caused? Does she agree that decisions by the UK Government such as its refusal to include Scottish universities in the post-study work visa pilot scheme are deeply damaging to our universities?
George Adam raises an important point. As I said to Gillian Martin earlier, the actions of the UK Government on immigration are highly damaging, whether that is the decision to exclude us from the English tier 4 visa pilot or the implication in what the Home Secretary has said that we should somehow further limit the number of international students, who contribute so much to our economy and community. We will continue to press the UK Government to introduce a post-study work visa for Scotland that meets the needs of our communities and universities.