Heriot-Watt's Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard A Williams has commented on international staff and students being the 'heartbeat' of all leading universities. An abridged version of the communication below has been published in The Times.
“Internationalism is in the heartbeat of every world-leading university; how could it not be? Universities are about people, opening up the transformative power of education to others for the betterment of our global society. Given the increasing intensity of the debate on the welcome of people from across the world to the United Kingdom, I want to add my voice to those who see and believe in the vast benefits we all gain from being an open, 'global' place to live, study, and work.
“International students and staff are part of our creative and connected learning community. Universally appreciated as giving depth and value and, crucially, as a means of developing our wider sense of mission in respect to our values and the development of talent in the wider world.
“UK culture, sport, language and media are keenly sought out by international staff and students. Why would we turn against this and not enable those who wish to visit, to learn, to add to our society and economy, the opportunities to do so?
“What business can survive in today's global market without developing its international talent to supply its current needs, and grow its future market opportunities and demands? Let's be clear - international students are Britain's customers today and global ambassadors of the future.
“Beyond our campuses, international academic activity and partnerships provide major employment in our university cities. Heriot-Watt University is a major economic cog in the city of Edinburgh. As families and friends visit as tourists they use a vast array of city services and businesses, bringing much needed economic value to towns and cities across the UK.
“Edinburgh is renowned across the world for the success and welcome of its many international festivals. As reported earlier this week from the EU Social Progress Index, Scotland is seen as having a high 'quality of life' in comparison with the rest of the UK – attributed in no small part to the perceived higher levels of tolerance within Scottish society. We should not only welcome this, we must all do what we can to encourage it.
Building and improving for the world
“As a charity, Heriot-Watt University has a duty to build and improve the common good for a world full of need. We can do this through opportunities for study and learning for staff and students to come to us for a period of time and then return home. From my perspective, and that of our University, there is no evidence that international students significantly or illegally overstay their period of study.
“Also, do we really want to lessen the opportunities of UK academics and students by stifling their futures through turning in on ourselves?
“We operate an integrated international University based on five locations in three countries. Our campus in Malaysia was proud to host the launch UK Government's GREAT campaign in the region in February this year – a three-year campaign that celebrates not only the existing educational links between the UK and Malaysia but also seeks greater collaboration between UK education institutes and Malaysian partners, making UK education more accessible than ever.
“Within the UK, and in particular within our world-wide, highly respected, academic sector, international activity and the 'exchange' of people and ideas are the heartbeat of any world-class university. We welcome and celebrate international students and staff, and we will continue to do so.”