UK

British students squeezed out of degrees as universities target £30k-a-year international students

Record numbers of teenagers will be squeezed out of degree places this year because some universities rate them a greater ‘financial risk’ than lucrative foreign students.

When A-level results arrive next month the hopes of many sixth formers will be dashed by a combination of deferred students taking up spaces, an upward trend in 18-year-old numbers and ambitious overseas student recruitment targets.

Thousands of school leavers are also expected to miss out on the results they need to get into the best universities as pass marks are raised to rein in the grade inflation caused by the cancellation of exams last year.

Vice chancellors are warning that the tuition fee cap of £9,250 a year is losing them money at a time of rising inflation. It makes foreign students, who pay up to £30,000 a year, more attractive than British scholars.

Figures from the Complete University Guide reveal that at some leading universities, including University College London (UCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE), more than half of undergraduates are from abroad.

If postgraduate students are counted, 70 per cent of the LSE intake is from overseas. At UCL, 75 per cent of students on 16 postgraduate courses came from China, and on three courses all the students were Chinese, according to an internal paper.

General view of the London School of Economics Old Building

University College London (left) and the London School of Economics (right), more than half of undergraduates are from abroad

Foreign students at Imperial College make up 49.4 per cent of the undergraduate cohort while universities with around a third of the intake from overseas include Edinburgh, Manchester, Warwick, Aberdeen, City University, King’s College London and SOAS, in London, Coventry and St Andrews.

A policy to attract more international students, while freezing the number from the UK, is in place at Loughborough University. Internal documents reveal that it regards home students as ‘a risk’. ‘We will not grow our home undergraduate population significantly,’ said minutes of a meeting at the end of last year. ‘The inflationary squeeze on UK undergraduate fees continues to constrain us financially and growth in this area would represent a significant risk to the student experience.

‘We will, however, plan to increase the number of international students on our campuses… and we will need to develop and resource plans to achieve this.’

One of Manchester Metropolitan University’s main priorities is to increase international student numbers on campus by ten per cent and to raise international student fee income to at least £31million, a 125 per cent increase on the 2016 figure. Minutes of a Nottingham University council meeting held earlier this year noted that the over-recruitment of home students and below target international student numbers had lost the university £3.4 million.

In a bid to boost the number of overseas students, who are worth £20 billion to the UK economy, the government set a target in 2019 to reach 600,000 foreign enrolments a year by 2030.

But the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the UK had 605,130 non-UK enrolments in 2020-21, surpassing the target almost a decade early.

Elite Russell Group universities argue that they are making a loss of £1,750 a year teaching each home student because tuition fees have remained almost static for a decade while inflation is soaring.

In a bid to boost the number of overseas students, who are worth £20 billion to the UK economy, the government set a target in 2019 to reach 600,000 foreign enrolments a year by 2030

In a bid to boost the number of overseas students, who are worth £20 billion to the UK economy, the government set a target in 2019 to reach 600,000 foreign enrolments a year by 2030

Professor Colin Riordan, the vice chancellor of Cardiff University, has warned that universities are facing a crisis and as losses on teaching accumulate ‘they will have to start reducing the number of home students they take’.

But Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, which champions social mobility, said the main priority should be helping young people in the UK. ‘Attending university, particularly a highly selective one, is at present the best way to give yourself the opportunity to succeed in life,’ he said.

‘The pandemic has significantly increased educational inequalities, and so it is more important than ever that young people from low- and moderate-income homes are given the opportunity to progress their education.’

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of education and employment research at Buckingham University, said this year’s A-level students will find it harder than ever to get into the top universities.

‘The Government has encouraged universities to recruit overseas students as a source of income. But this policy now risks home students being squeezed out,’ he said.


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