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UK universities chartering planes to fly in students from China to claw back £1.3billion in fees

Top UK universities are chartering flights to bring Chinese students into the country next month.

The flights come amid warnings that UK institutions are at risk of overlooking the needs of British students while trying to cater to international students in a bid to avoid losing millions of pounds in overseas fees due to coronavirus travel restrictions.    

More than 50 universities, including Imperial College London, Bristol and Exeter, have already chartered four flights, bringing in some 1,200 Chinese students, The Times reported. 

Mainland China has scrapped all direct commercial flights to the UK but students can travel to London via Hong Kong, which is on the UK’s green list for travel.

More flights are now being arranged in order to meet demand, the paper reported, citing Into HE, an international education organisation assisting in hiring the flights.

Preparations include airport transfers between Heathrow and the university campuses, along with accommodation and food for the students, who currently have to isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the UK. 

Top UK universities are chartering flights to bring Chinese students into the country next month. Pictured: The University of Bristol, one of the universities to charter flights

The charter flights come amid fears that income from overseas students – worth more than £1billion to UK universities – could dip amid ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions.

There are some 220,000 Chinese students studying in the UK, The Times reported, with students from China providing nearly a fifth of all tuition fee income. Across the prestigious Russell Group, one in every 10 students is Chinese. After China, India is the country from which most overseas students at UK universities hail.

The availability of flights to the UK has been impacted by coronavirus, particularly over concerns about the Delta variant, prompting some universities to extend online learning and introduce multiple start dates in a bid to accommodate international students struggling to get to the UK in time for the beginning of term.

Experts have also warned that the focus on catering to international students risks overlooking the needs of British students, who pay nearly four times less in fees than international students.

The flights come amid warnings that UK institutions are at risk of overlooking the needs of British students while trying to cater to international students in a bid to avoid losing millions of pounds in overseas fees due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Pictured: Imperial College London, one of the universities to charter flights

The flights come amid warnings that UK institutions are at risk of overlooking the needs of British students while trying to cater to international students in a bid to avoid losing millions of pounds in overseas fees due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Pictured: Imperial College London, one of the universities to charter flights

‘There are real questions to be asked about whether universities are now so focused on their income from overseas students that there is a risk that they are giving them priority over UK students. In particular, many [universities] are keeping online lectures this term and arranging multiple start dates for degrees, partly in case overseas students do not turn up and have to study from home again,’ Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, told The Times.

Faced with potentially another year of remote learning, some British students are demanding fees be reduced or refunded.   

The upcoming start of term is also raising concerns about a potential rise in coronavirus cases among students, some of whom are not yet fully vaccinated. 

Campuses saw some 35,000 infections across more than 100 universities last year, the Times reported, including one of the country’s first official cases.

In a bid to avoid this, UK universities have suggested that the government could provide more hotel accommodation at airports for students travelling from red-list countries to quarantine in, the Times reported, citing ‘British university sources’.  

Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and the University of Exeter did not immediately respond to a MailOnline request for comment. 

More than 50 universities, including Imperial College London, Bristol and Exeter, have already chartered four flights, bringing in some 1,200 Chinese students. Pictured: The University of Exeter, one of the universities to charter flights

More than 50 universities, including Imperial College London, Bristol and Exeter, have already chartered four flights, bringing in some 1,200 Chinese students. Pictured: The University of Exeter, one of the universities to charter flights


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