China Girls Abroad

This edition of ChinaGirslAbroad is given over to a special report on how Scottish independence could affect decisions by international students to study in Scotland.

The main points of the report are below. The full report can be downloaded here:

Educational Choices of International Students in Relation to Scottish Independence



Educational Choices of International Students in Relation to Scottish IndependenceThe interviews were conducted face to face with 200 international students in the University of Glasgow, University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, and Glasgow Caledonian University.

For non-European students, 46% said they would be less likely to come to study in an independent Scotland. The major reasons given were the UK is seen as a powerful brand, and is associated very strongly with quality of education. A 28 year-old Thai student from Glasgow Caledonian University commented: “People in Thailand just know UK; Scotland is not credible.”

Other students from China wrote that: “the degree wouldn’t be worth much”, and “as it would not be part of the UK, the attraction of universities would go down”. Another 23 year-old Chinese student from the University of Glasgow summarized the view as: “The fame and reputation of English education is higher”.

Just 8% of non-European students indicated that they would be more likely to come to an independent Scotland. The reasons given related to beliefs, such as that visas would be easier to obtain along with work permits, that the economy would be stronger, its ranking might go up, or even that the Scottish economy would decline, and therefore it would be cheaper to live here.

But, 46% of non-European students said their views of Scotland as a place to study remained unchanged. Some of those said they had family and cultural connections with Scotland, which made it attractive. One 27 year-old American girl from the University of Edinburgh added: “I have a personal attachment to Scotland, more than England.”

Others pointed to the quality of a particular degree or university, and believed this would remain the same. As a 22 year-old Chinese student from the University of Edinburgh said: “What seems important to me is the university itself”. Another 25 year-old Rwandan student from the University of Glasgow said: “It’s the university standard and ranking that I care about, not the politics.”

There were also strong beliefs expressed on the value of a degree from an independent Scotland. For the students as a whole, 37% believe the degree would be worth less, 54% indicated that it would be the same while 10% believed it would be worth more.

European students generally said they were still more likely to still choose to come to Scotland, as long as tuition remained free under European rules. But even so, nearly a third of those Europeans interviewed said they thought they would be less likely to come to an independent Scotland. A 21 year-old Latvian student from the University of Glasgow, said: “The UK is one of the most influential countries in the world. It’s a powerful brand. Scotland would be a completely new concept, so potentially seen as less reliable.”

Attitudes to England and Scotland:

Some students, especially from non-EU countries knew very little about either England or Scotland before they came. Where there was knowledge, it often conformed to familiar stereotypes, some of which derived from tourist advertising, others came apparently from films, TV, or school books.

Scotland features very heavily for beautiful scenery, kilts, bagpipes, and Bravesheart. England is seen as a country of gentlemen, the Queen, Royal Family, and tea parties. The weather in the UK is also a favourite topic. A 22 year-old Estonian student from Glasgow Caledonian University summarized the difference as: “English people are very posh and well mannered; Scotland is very rainy with the Loch Ness monster.”

One positive note from the survey was that students expressed great satisfaction with living in Scotland, with 77% enjoying their life here and just 5% saying they are unhappy.


The results raise serious questions for universities in Scotland, since a sharp decline in numbers of international students could potentially lead to redundancies and severe cutbacks in areas such as the development of accommodation, as well as academic provision.

In a sense, the views of the students expressed here and the divisions between them over the future status of Scotland, parallel the arguments in Scottish society as a whole. They feature the same discussion about whether Scotland would be better making its way alone, or better together with the rest of the UK. But there is a crucial difference between the students and the Scottish population in that the former are intensely mobile. A choice of university destination and which country is preferred can be altered with a click on a computer. So any effects produced by possible vote for independence would be very immediately felt by universities.

These results should at least press universities in Scotland to undertake their own research, and to develop appropriate strategies to cope with any changes which may come.


This report has been reported in the Guardian newspaper:


And in two seperate reports in the HeraldScotland newspaper:

  1. Independence 'threat' to vital fees paid by Chinese students
  2. Comparison with England and poll effects


The follow up story has also been published by China Daily:

  1. Scottish 'yes' may be 'no' for Chinese