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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Clash over Fresh Talent 'target'
Foreign students - generic
Ministers hope students will stay and work in Scotland
The Scottish Executive has rejected criticism that a target for reversing population decline has been dropped.

The claim came as Fresh Talent measures offering foreign students the chance to work in Scotland were launched.

Opposition parties attacked the policy after it emerged that the initial target for attracting 8,000 people a year no longer applied.

But Finance Minister Tom McCabe said the target was not needed as the population had risen on its own.

Launching the drive in 2004, First Minister Jack McConnell said Scotland must act as "a magnet for fresh talent" to grow the economy and create jobs.

"To do that, we need an additional 8,000 people living in Scotland each year between now and 2009," he said.

We've got people in Scotland who allege we are failing - it really is quite a ridiculous assertion
Tom McCabe
Finance Minister

But the head of the Relocation Advisory Service (RAS) - which has received 5,390 enquiries since opening last October - said its target was "to provide a good quality service" and increase the number of people making enquiries.

Lorna Clark told the European and external relations committee that population projections had since improved and numbers were not now expected to fall below five million until about 2017.

"As far as I know we only used the 8,000 figure the once in that statement to parliament," she added.

"It's then been used every time anybody else writes about it.

"So I think it's come to be seen as more of a hard target for the executive than we ever imagined it would be."

Growth hopes

Mr McCabe said the scheme - agreed by the Home Office, which is responsible for UK immigration policy - was "another important step forward".

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that criticism of the lack of a target figure was "hysterical".

"What Jack McConnell said was that 8,000 people a year, at that time, would stop our population falling below the five million mark.

"But it really is strange to be accused of failing to meet an alleged target that you're actually exceeding.

"And even a cursory examination of the very recent population figures will show that Scotland's population figures increased by over 20,000.

"They are the best population figures since 1952 and we've got people in Scotland who allege we are failing - it really is quite a ridiculous assertion."

Eight thousand migrants were never enough in the first place, now they are not even aiming that high
Jim Mather
SNP enterprise spokesman

But Scottish National Party enterprise spokesman Jim Mather claimed Fresh Talent was "fast becoming a shambles".

He said: "The executive should be aiming to grow the population to keep Scotland competitive, not settling for the low five million mark, at least that would be consistent with their oft-stated top priority of growing the economy.

"The executive is showing a distinct and increasingly common lack of ambition on this policy.

"Eight thousand migrants were never enough in the first place, now they are not even aiming that high."

A father with his baby
There have been fears the populaton could fall below five million

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie added: "This is typical of the executive, they do everything by targets and when they're set to fail they simply move the goalposts or fudge the target itself.

"Scotland will only attract the fresh talent it needs and retain the brightest of Scots when we have a competitive economy and world class public services."

Foreign students interested in living and working in the country after they graduate can now apply for places.

The scheme applies to non-European Union students living and studying in Scotland.

They can apply to work in Scotland for two years after they graduate without the need of a work permit.

Graduates would then be able to join a migration scheme or choose to leave the country.

Students who leave Scotland must apply within a year to be eligible.

'Scotland is better'

The scheme applies to students who graduate with an HND or a first degree, but not a higher national certificate (HNC) or postgraduate diploma.

Furat Al-Attili, 23, from Jordan, is studying for an MSc in biomedical sciences at Napier University in Edinburgh and said he intended to stay in Scotland.

He said: "I would enjoy the experience of working in Scotland, particularly in the famous NHS.

"Working in Scotland is better for me personally than going to the USA, which always tries to bring new students into medical fields.

"I like the weather and the people in Scotland and spending a couple of years here before continuing my studies for the PhD should provide me with good experience."

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20 Apr 04 |  Scotland


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