There have been plenty of headlines recently claiming that UK universities are rejecting British students in favour of international students and that Our universities fall for the glitter of foreign gold.
This is not a new story; we see these claims repeated every year. So what are the facts?
It is true that higher education is becoming increasingly global; there are growing numbers of overseas students who choose to study in the UK. This is hardly surprising given the UK’s leading reputation for higher education and the global rise in the numbers of tertiary students wanting to study outside of their home nation. It’s been reported that more British students are considering applying to overseas universities as well (see our previous blog on this subject).
And, as the minister for universities, David Willetts, said recently: “that is a good thing!” Students broaden their experience by learning alongside people from across the globe: students educate and influence each other, academically, socially and culturally.
This is also good for society; international students have a significant impact on the national and regional economies. Research by UUK shows that non-EU international students contribute £5.3 billion a year to the economy and more broadly education exports contribute £8 billion.
So yes, UK universities are committed to attracting students from around the world, but there are a few points we should put straight:
- International students can get in on lower grades
It is not in the interests of the students themselves, or of any university, to recruit students from either the UK or overseas without the academic ability and potential to complete the course; this risks compromising their reputation both here and abroad. Universities work hard to look after their international students and admitting students that aren’t up to the course would be counterintuitive. It can cause significant additional work in terms of supporting potentially poorly-performing students. A reduction in an institution’s course completion rates can also impact on a university’s ability to sponsor international students in the future (through their highly trusted status with the UK Border Agency). Universities will wish to admit the brightest and best students wherever they are from. This is essential if universities are to maintain their world-class reputation.
Every student selected for a course will have had to meet the required qualifications for their programme of study. It is the case, however, that in certain circumstances, a student may be accepted onto a course without appearing to meet the advertised entry requirements. Often admissions staff take into account a range of factors beyond exam results such as personal statements and the potential to succeed on the course. This would apply to UK, EU and overseas students alike. Universities will only recruit international students they believe are genuine and are capable of completing the course.
- International applicants are being guaranteed places at UK universities
Contrary to recent reports, it is not the case that education agents have the authority to make the decision on whether to admit an international student – nor must it ever be. Agents perform a signposting service for candidates, but it is the universities alone who make this judgment. Agents may have been exaggerating what they can offer applicants and UUK strongly supports the British Council’s International code of ethics for education agents. This was established to ensure that recruitment agents acting overseas for UK universities adhere to the highest of standards in their code of conduct. Universities will take any evidence of agents operating outside agreed parameters very seriously.
- Universities in the UK are looking increasingly to international students as they can make more money from the higher fees they pay
Of course, universities have to be financially sustainable, but most institutions are charities, they do not have shareholders and are specifically not-for-profit. Their aim is to provide opportunities and new life chances for all their students. They do this, by educating those they admit to the very highest standards and to the best of their ability.
- Universities in the UK are rejecting British students in favour of international students
It is not the case that international students are taking places away from home students. In England, for example, due to the need to control the costs of student loans, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills sets a limit on the number of home and EU students that can be recruited. Given the high levels of demand from home students, universities recruit right up to that limit.
Prior to the admissions process, each university will determine the number of places available to UK students and the number available to overseas students, taking into account these strict government guidelines which restrict the extent to which UK numbers can be expanded. Then they manage admissions against two distinct pots.