British Council report praises universities in Scotland

St Andrews University
Image caption Scottish universities continue to attract students from Scotland and the rest of the UK

A new report may help Scotland's universities make the most of international opportunities.

The British Council - which seeks to improve cultural relations and educational opportunities across the world - commissioned research to try to find out what makes them unique collectively.

The aim was to identify assets or qualities which could be used to promote Scottish higher education itself across the world.

The report claims the level of satisfaction expressed by international students who come to Scotland is unmatched worldwide.

The other qualities the report identifies include the stress on lifelong learning and high employability of graduates.

The research tried to pull together the qualities of the Scottish higher education system itself - rather than the individual strengths and weaknesses of each university.

British Council Scotland director Lloyd Anderson said: "This report tells a remarkable story of a national academic system that is world class and highly innovative, a story of which Scotland should be very proud.

"The nation's assets include a higher than expected number of world-class universities, as rated by both academic indicators and the students themselves, and a uniquely joined-up, collaborative and inclusive sector.

"By cataloguing the strengths of Scotland's higher education system, we can now promote these to the world with confidence, and encourage a curious world to come to Scotland."


The strategic analysis - by international education specialists Neil Kemp and William Lawton - also touched on some of the impressions, preconceptions and misconceptions which overseas educationalists had about Scotland and Scottish education. The council believes the work is the first of its kind.

During the course of the work, questionnaires were sent to leading international educationalists in several countries. They were asked what they saw as Scotland's distinctiveness.

While many recognised a distinct Scottish cultural identity, some of the responses reveal a serious misunderstanding of Scotland's current political situation.

One replied: "I see Scotland as an independent country with its own currency, a different university system."

The report says respondents with some understanding, often had a perception that the Scottish government gave higher education a greater priority than the UK government.

But there was less understanding of the details of the higher education system.

The responses are contained within a detailed 76 page report, which sets out facts and figures about Scottish students and universities.

Research strength

In his foreword, Lloyd Anderson says the report provides the council with the perfect opportunity to promote the sector internationally.

He said: "We were clear that we wanted to focus on the positive assets of the higher education sector in a holistic way, rather than cataloguing the academic excellence and research strength of each university."

The authors identified a number of defining characteristics which they say are unique to Scotland when taken collectively.

They included.

  • The stress on lifelong learning
  • An integrated and inclusive sector which is active internationally
  • The no-fees policy for undergraduates
  • High employability rates and strong links with business and industry
  • The strong recruitment of students from overseas
  • An impressive global ranking overall

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "Scotland's reputation for excellence in Higher Education was confirmed by the performance of some of our key institutions in the recent QS world university rankings.

"These findings back up what we've known for a long time - that students from overseas can enjoy a fulfilling academic experience in Scotland, and that they contribute significantly to student life.

"As the British Council points out, Higher Education in Scotland has considerable differences to the rest of the UK and their work, including the contents of this report, will help us raise awareness of the differences that exist."

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