Look East and Inspire the Leaders of Tomorrow
The Asia Scotland Institute’s mission is to educate and inspire and to equip tomorrow’s leaders in Scotland with the knowledge and skills to better engage with Asia in this The Century of Asia. Appearances by high level speakers form the core of its programmes but there are other ways in which it can assist in building bridges between Scotland and the largest economies of Asia. At a time when EC funding is at risk because of Brexit, there are other opportunities to help facilitate connections and raise Scotland’s profile as an attractive destination. Building bridges equally involves breaking down barriers. In this article, I look at some of the Institute’s activities in these areas.
Our Education: Long regarded as one of Scotland’s crown jewels, our Higher Education sector rightly boasts 19 universities, some of which are in the top-level Russell Group. The Scottish economy benefits significantly from tuition fees received from overseas students and the additional revenues from purchases by both students and their families when visiting. The possibility of a marked reduction in students from the European Community is posing real challenges for university vice chancellors as they grapple with long-term funding goals and work to figure out how best to attract students from Asia for undergraduate and graduate courses.
The payment of fees has always been a challenge for the Chinese, however, as the use of normal debit and credit cards with which we are so familiar is largely banned in China. There are solutions and the Asia Scotland Institute has been playing a part in helping introduce the WeChat Pay facility to Scotland, enabling universities and other institutions and businesses to open merchant accounts and receive sterling payments via online and offline methods.
Additionally, the WeChat application provides a means of connecting with Chinese alumni and is widely viewed as an invaluable tool for fundraisers and development offices. So, what are the compelling metrics? Working through Wikaas, the company contracted by TenCent, WeChat’s owners, we are aware that a phenomenal total of more than 900 million Chinese citizens use the social networking application, of whom over 600 million use this for making and receiving payments.
Harnessing just a small part of this facility could transform parts of the Scottish economy, especially as the payments involved pass through a UK Government-regulated Payment Services Provider or PSP.
To quote an article earlier this month in the New York Times: “There is an audacious economic experiment happening in China. It has nothing to do with debt, infrastructure spending or the other economic topics du jour. It has to do with cash – specifically, how China is systematically and rapidly doing away with paper money and coins. Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything – technology that turns smartphones into wallets is now a default way of life”.
Our Economy: Readers of The Scotsman know that the Scottish economy is challenged. Ageing infrastructure, shortfalls in funding for transportation networks, unfulfilled pledges to create viable renewable energy sources and a chronic lack of affordable homes are just some of the issues that a constrained national budget faces, facts acknowledged by politicians from all parties. If we are indeed “open for business”, why do we sit back and watch the substantial investment by China in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe across the North Sea as part of their One Belt One Road initiative and fail to engage ourselves? China ranks as the second-largest investor in the Netherlands after the United States and provided policymakers can come together on a few key fronts with the linking-up of complimentary investment plans, €315 billion euros will be mobilised in the coming three years, including China’s strategy entailing $40 billion to take the New Silk Road all the way to Northern Europe, with Rotterdam as one of the principal port beneficiaries.
The aborted Chinese investment in Scotland in 2016 may have evaporated, referred to at the time in the Chinese press as “the Scottish shambles”, but other opportunities are arising and by aggregating the housing needs in our major cities we could surely structure funding solutions in the near term. I suspect our forebears would turn in their graves if they saw the bureaucratic barriers that prevent action being taken or, to quote one senior engineering consulting specialist, “what has happened to the ‘do it now and build it up’ mentality of our grandfathers’ generation?”. We would be well served by breathing life back into the entrepreneurial spirit that made Scotland and the Scots such a successful force throughout Asia and elsewhere and recreate viable public private partnerships to seize the opportunities before us. If Rotterdam why not Aberdeen, Glasgow or Dundee? Our Entrepreneurial Spirit: We sometimes forget the influence Scotland and the Scots have had in India and China. To quote an article in the Daily Telegraph: “It won’t surprise you to learn that whereas in one hemisphere sales of Marx’s Communist Manifesto have rarely been stronger, the other is devouring Adam Smith like never before”. China’s former Premier, Wen Jiabao, said he often carried a copy of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments in his suitcase when travelling, which preceded his more famous later work The Wealth of Nations.
To quote from that work in 1776: “China has long been one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world”.
It seems about time that we grasped the opportunity to connect and re-establish some historic links for the benefit of the Scottish economy and the future of tomorrow’s leaders in Scotland whom we seek to educate and inspire!