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Scottish universities worried about Home Office’s post-Brexit visa plans

Scottish university leaders and students have expressed their concerns over the Home Office’s post-Brexit visa plans.

Although the Home Office intends to allow students from the European Union (EU) to remain in the UK for three years, Scottish degrees are often completed in four years.

Worries that Brexit will affect funding and discourage European students and staff from applying to Scottish universities are increasing as the date of the UK’s departure, 29 March, approaches.

Roughly 9% of students in Scottish universities are from the EU. Last year, over 4,000 applied through UCAS. Scotland’s government also pays for the tuition fees of EU students who attend universities there.

The Russell Group called three year visas a “kick in the teeth” for Scotland’s four-year degrees and specialist degree courses in the UK, some of which are medicine, dentistry, and engineering.

Vice-chancellor for the University of Glasgow and Russell Group Chair Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli said he was “astonished” by the Home Office’s “crass” suggestions.

“I think it could be really serious. I think for a lot of students it could put them off,” he commented. “We can’t have policies which are made on the hoof, which this one appears to be.”

Sir Anton urged the Home Office to reconsider its proposal, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt assured that the government will “take full account” of and “completely [understands] the concerns of Scottish universities”.

“The home secretary is looking at that very closely and we want to make sure that our immigration policy works with the Scottish education system, as it does for the rest of the UK,” he continued.

The Home Office has since stated: “We recognise there are a number of students on courses longer than three years, including at some Scottish universities.

“For these students, in the event of a no deal there are options available to enable them to remain in the UK for the entirety of their studies.”

An alternative is for EU students to extend their stay after their temporary leave of three years expires, or apply for longer visas before attending university, especially if they are international students.

Last month, Higher Education Minister for Scotland Richard Lochhead wrote to UK Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, and is still waiting for a reply.

He described the visa proposal as “a further example of how Scotland’s distinct and specific needs have been totally ignored by the UK government throughout the entire Brexit process”.

At the University of Warwick, the provision of “Brexit Guidance” has been made available to international students concerned with the upcoming departure.

“At Warwick, we are committed to encouraging our staff and students to thrive within an actively inclusive international community, and we continue to look outwards to Europe and the rest of the world,” stated Stuart Croft, Warwick’s vice-chancellor.

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