Scotland's Fresh Talent plan angers English universities

Some English colleges and universities are upset about the success of Scotland's Fresh Talent Initiative. Higher education institutions in England believe the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent Initiative may go against EU competition law because it gives Scotland preferential treatment over other parts of Britain.

They have told UK ministers that the scheme, which aims to keep foreign graduates in Scotland by offering them a two-year visa extension, has created "unfair competition" and should be reviewed.

Fresh Talent was announced in February last year by the First Minister as one way of halting Scotland's declining population, which is predicted to fall below five million by 2009. The policy, which came into force this year, aimed to attract 8000 people annually to Scotland by 2009, a target later dropped.

But the plan angered senior figures at English universities who believe Scottish institutions have been given a huge advantage in luring foreign students by offering them residency after graduation.

At a June 28 meeting of the Joint Education Taskforce, a pan-UK body created by the Home Office, civil servants heard university representatives question the right of the Scottish Executive to operate a separate regime on a reserved issue such as immigration.

Grievances were aired about Fresh Talent only applying to Scotland, as university groups in England and Wales argued it should apply across the UK.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, the lobbying group for higher education, admitted there was frustration in England regarding Fresh Talent.

"It is incredibly positive from a Scottish perspective. But we would like some of it too," she said. "Any bemusement comes from the fact that the visa system is UK-wide. Students who come to Scotland on Fresh Talent might not necessarily stay there. There is nothing to stop them leaving."