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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
UK universities eye Fresh Talent
University students
Universities across the UK are interested in the scheme
English universities are seeking to end Scotland's competitive advantage in attracting overseas students.

Universities UK is calling for the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent visa scheme to be extended to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The initiative, part of a drive to reverse population decline, allows overseas students a two-year visa extension if they study in Scotland.

There were more than 2,000 successful applicants in the scheme's first year.

The University of Bedfordshire's vice-chancellor, Professor Les Ebdon, confirmed that there was envy, especially in the north of England.

It would be excellent to have the Fresh Talent scheme applied across the whole of the UK
Professor Les Ebdon
Universities UK

Speaking on behalf of Universities UK, he said the scheme offered a "significant competitive advantage" and should be extended to the rest of the UK.

"After all, international students bring in some 3bn a year to the UK economy, so it is very important business," he said.

"As far as immigration rules are concerned we are supposed to be the one nation, we don't have devolved immigration rules.

"It would be excellent to have the Fresh Talent scheme applied across the whole of the UK.

"I know something like that will happen when the new immigration rules come into practice, but that could be a couple of years down the line."

Boris Johnson, the Conservative higher education spokesman, described the situation as "an anomaly".

'Unequal treatment'

"Devolution was not intended to include immigration matters, and it is unjust to have an unequal visa treatment between Scotland and the rest of the country," he said.

"I will be challenging Bill Rammell at the Universities UK annual conference to extend the Scottish visa regime to the rest of the United Kingdom."

David Caldwell, the director of Universities Scotland, said it was understandable for the other UK universities to want to adopt the Fresh Talent initiative.

"It is not an uneven playing field, it is just a very good scheme," he told BBC Scotland.

"The important thing is that it does not just benefit Scottish universities, it benefits Scotland.

"Scotland needs to attract talent if we are going to have a thriving, growing, knowledge-based economy and these international students that come to Scotland bring the country great benefits."

Scotland and England can both be winners
David Caldwell
Universities Scotland

He said Scotland would not lose out if the rest of the UK adopted a similar scheme, as there was an "enormous" number of overseas students who were interested in studying abroad.

"I hope for the benefit of our English counterparts that they will get something like it as well," he added.

"Scotland and England can both be winners."

The Home Office has already watered down the Scottish advantage by introducing visa extensions for overseas postgraduate students in England.

They will be allowed to remain in the UK for 12 months without a work permit after completing their studies.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said "significant changes" had been made.

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