UK Government immigration policies could have a devastating impact on Scotland's universities and could cost the country's economy billions, a senior academic has warned. 

Writing in The Herald, Professor Wendy Alexander, the vice-principal of the University of Dundee, has accused the Home Office of turning international students into “political footballs.”

The comments from the former Scottish Labour leader come as a new report found that the economic impact of students from overseas studying in Scotland was worth around £4.75 billion to the economy, roughly £750 for everyone who lives here.

In the Glasgow Central constituency, which takes in a fairly substantial amount of the city’s student accommodation and is home to 3,060 learners from abroad, the net benefit to the local economy is £292 million, more than any other constituency in the UK.

The report, published by Universities UK International, the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International in collaboration with London Economics said this was worth around £2,720 per local resident. 

READ MORE: Wendy Alexander: UK threatens success of Scots unis at attracting foreign students

Scotland has a quarter of the top 20 UK constituencies that benefit from international students. 

Edinburgh East, Aberdeen North, Glasgow North and Dundee West all secured over £200 million.   

There has been a substantial jump in the number of international students in Scotland in recent years, partly down to Scots students not paying for tuition. 

The report says that’s left university chiefs trying to attract fee-paying students to help make up “the substantial shortfalls in income for educating domestic students.”

In the academic year 2021/22, there were 44,085 international students registered on first-year undergraduate courses, up from 29,730 in 2018/19.

The report says this means 34% of all first-year students in Scotland came from overseas.

The UK average in 2021/22 was 30%, though it reached 40% in London and 36% in Northern Ireland.

In a bid to bring down net migration, Home Secretary Suella Braverman is keen to reduce the time foreign students and their dependents can stay in the UK after they finish their course.

At present, they are allowed to remain in the UK without any requirement to get a job for up to two years.

Ms Braverman wants to reduce that period to six months.

Though, according to reports over the weekend that has been blocked by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

Nevertheless, the UK Government is looking at plans to limit the number of family members master's students from abroad can bring to the UK.

READ MORE: Scots farmers criticise Braverman's over local worker call

In her comment piece, Professor Alexander says the benefit of attracting international students to different parts of the UK is “a textbook case of successful levelling up.”  

She adds: “In Scotland, international student fees have been crucial in making up the shortfall in universities' income, by contributing to the costs of educating domestic Scottish students. 

“International students also diversify our campuses, enrich the learning environment for home students, boost the UK’s research base and support the financial sustainability of our higher education sector. 

“However, there are many nations out to lure the world’s best young talent. The UK’s offer needs nurtured.

"We have advantages: quality teaching; English; recognition of our qualifications and concentrated one-year masters programmes.

"But success is not assured as recent history shows. International students want the opportunity to try out their new skills in their host country.” 

She adds that the UK Government “has spent the last nine months threatening to put this success at risk.”  

Prof Alexander writes: “New restrictions are imminently expected curtailing the right of postgraduate students to bring their families with them whilst they are studying in the UK.

"International students have become unwitting footballs in a proxy debate about small boat crossing and the state of legal migration routes.  

“This report provides concrete evidence of the folly of jeopardising international student flows. 

“Parents and prospective students around the globe hear the hostile rhetoric and worry about what rules will be in place if they choose the UK.

"This impacts the flow of talent and the ability of employers to source talent.” 

The report authors said that across the UK, the economic benefit of international students rose from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22.

The net benefit – when the cost of the impact on public services is taken into account – is £37.4bn to the UK economy.   

On average, every nine EU students and every 11 non-EU students generated £1 million of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their courses.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Uni principal denies fee payers take Scots places

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said the report “further highlights the positive contribution that international students make to the UK”.

“It is vital that the UK remains an open and welcoming destination for international students, and that their contribution is recognised and valued,” he said.

“Higher education is one of the UK’s most important and successful exports – but it is truly unique, in that alongside generating a significant economic contribution to the UK, our universities have a hugely positive global impact, creating opportunity for millions of learners and helping address some of the most pressing global challenges.”

Responding to Professor Alexander’s comments, a UK  Government spokesperson said: “Our points-based system is designed to be flexible according to the UK’s needs - including attracting top-class talent from across the world to contribute to the UK’s excellent academic reputation and to help keep our universities competitive on the world stage.

“We keep all our immigration policies under constant review to ensure they best serve the country and reflect the public’s priorities.”