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Column: International Students Make a Real Difference in Stirling

Published:

Categories: News

I make no apology for my desire to see Scotland re-join the world as an independent nation in the European Union. We’ve a lot to learn from our partners and neighbours, as we pivot to tackle the big issues of our generation. In a future dominated by great power blocs, we in Scotland must make policy decisions fit for now and the future, based on our shared values as a society.

Often lofty rhetoric and sloganeering can seem above day-to-day issues, but supporting Scotland’s international connections has a real impact on our city and our communities. In a recent House of Commons debate, I spoke of the immense impact international students make to both Stirling and Scotland as a whole.

Last year, over 5000 students from around the globe paid us the immense honour of calling Stirling and our university home – over 30% of the campus-based student population. We’re attracting the best and brightest from countries the length and breadth of the European continent and beyond, yet continual negativity and hostile rhetoric from the government in Westminster threatens to blunt this success story.

Immigration as a whole has become a political football, vilified in the UK press and the halls of power. Often this innate hostility becomes self-powering, unleashing cycles of hate whose wounds often take generations to heal.

Whilst the legacy of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ lives on in her numerous successors, and asylum seekers are detained in overcrowded, unsafe detention centres; whilst Keir Starmer questions the contribution of overseas health workers, we must ask ourselves in Scotland – is this as good as it gets? Are these the values and images we want to associate ourselves with the world over? Will we stand up and be counted?

Scottish society has been enriched by those coming to our shores to build new lives, study or work. It doesn’t matter what your story was before – it matters where we’re all heading, together. New Scots and international students are very, very welcome in Stirling and Scotland, and we’re all richer for it. 

And whilst I take great pride in the positives of immigration and expanding our learning institutions to a wider audience – the net benefit to our local high streets and city centre cannot be minimised either. Recent figures put the positive economic contribution of international students to Stirling’s economy at £66.4 million – over £1.94 billion net to Scotland as a whole. Our nation faces population decline too, with those of working age supporting the public services and tax base on which we all rely.

The world of international affairs is complex and multi-faceted. But through values-based foreign policy, an independent Scotland can make a positive difference on the world stage; we can put our shoulder to the wheel against the great challenges facing our global civilisation – and we can leverage inevitable generational and societal change to ensure the social and economic benefits of our international links are felt from Cowie to Crianlarich, Tyndrum to Throsk, Fallin to Killin.