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Scotland’s people are the most highly educated in Europe

It may be a surprise to find that Scotland’s people are some of the most educated in Europe – 52% of people in Scotland have university, college or vocational qualifications, which is 5% higher than the UK figure, as well as around 20% higher than the EU average. 71

Graduates from Scotland’s universities continue to have the lowest level of unemployment in the UK at 6%, compared to a UK average of 7%. 72 Scottish graduates also have on average three times less student debt at graduation compared to English students (at an average of £13,890 compared to £40,280) as they pay no tuition fees while studying at university in Scotland. 73

The Scottish education sector has a huge mix of academic disciplines and can be considered world leaders across many research areas. For instance, Edinburgh is a leader in artificial intelligence, Dundee in digital industries and biotechnology, and Aberdeen in offshore oil and gas technology to name but a few.

A few more brief facts about the education sector:

  • 19 universities and 15 further education colleges in Scotland support more than 72,000 jobs, with 36,000 of these being directly employed posts. 275
  • Scottish universities contribute £15.3bn to the economy each year 276 and their annual exports amounted to £775 million. 277
  • Dundee’s life sciences cluster supports 16% of the jobs in Tayside alone. 278
  • Scotland boasts 282,875 students in full-time and part-time education, of whom more than 20,550 come from EU nations. 280
  • Scotland has four universities in the top 200 in the world. That’s more per head of population than any other country in the world, except Switzerland. 283
  • In 2022, almost 24% of all students entering tertiary education were from the 40% most deprived areas in Scotland (SIMD40). 285

Under threat from Brexit?

There are no prizes for guessing that Brexit represents the biggest threat to Scotland’s higher education sector. Pre-Brexit, roughly 11% of competitively won research funding in Scotland’s universities came from the EU. 287 The UK Government has to announce whether the UK will continue to participate in the Horizon research fund, as well as the EU-dominated European Research Area. 289 Brexit has also had a knock-on effect on the number of EU students applying to study in Scotland. Leaving the EU means that students will be charged international tuition fees, rather than their fees being paid for by Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), which could increase costs by tens of thousands of pounds. Brexit also reduces opportunities for academics in the UK, as they have to follow research grants; if these are threatened, they will have to go elsewhere. Between 2016 and 2019, 2,500 academics from the EU left Scottish universities. 292

About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.

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