UK Universities Should Embrace Foreign Students

October 16, 2023 Thomas


UK should embrace foreign students or lose them to rival countries, warns Ucas chief

Education correspondent
Mon 14 Aug 2023 19.38 CESTLast modified on Wed 16 Aug 2023 16.07 CEST

Britain should warmly welcome international students joining universities across the country or risk losing out to the US, Canada and Australia, the higher education admissions chief has said.

The intervention came amid concerns that domestic students hoping to begin undergraduate courses this autumn could lose out to international applicants. Some courses in clearing in the run-up to A-level results day this week are available only to overseas students.

UK universities say the value of the £9,250 tuition fees paid by domestic students has been eroded due to inflation. As a result, many institutions have become increasingly reliant on international tuition fees, which are significantly higher, to help cover costs.

 Clare Marchant, the chief executive of Ucas, tried to allay concerns at a webinar hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute on Monday. Asked whether there was a bigger trend this year in universities offering courses in clearing only to international students, Marchant said it was broadly consistent with previous years.

She conceded, however, that there may be changes in recruitment on individual courses at particular institutions. “The proof in the pudding in terms of competition will come on Thursday afternoon [A-level results day], as some of those courses are taken out of clearing as they get filled up.”

A report in the Telegraph on Monday said overseas students were being offered places on “hundreds more undergraduate degrees” in clearing at Russell Group institutions, including Durham and Liverpool, than their British counterparts.

Experts in the sector said the clearing process – by which universities recruit for unfilled places – was still fluid and it would be premature to draw any conclusions. “It’s too early to tell yet,” said Mark Corver, the founder of DataHE, “Universities will be working through their offer holders’ results now.”

Dan Barcroft, the director of admissions at the University of Sheffield, said there were limited places available in clearing for both UK and international students across a number of courses at his institution.“We’ve seen an increase in our applications from UK students this year and we’re aiming for this to be reflected in our admissions,” he said.

“International students play an important role in UK universities and don’t negatively affect the opportunities for UK students. As UK tuition fees have remained static for many years, fees from international students are used to cross-subsidise both teaching and research.”

Recent analysis by the Guardian found that £1 in every £5 received by UK universities last year came from international students, while at some institutions tuition fees from international students make up a third or more of the total income.

Marchant, who is due to leave Ucas to become vice-chancellor of Gloucestershire University this year, said about 13% of placed applicants were international students. “And broadly, that percentage we don’t expect to change hugely come Thursday, or the end of the cycle in October either.”

The majority of international students in the UK are on postgraduate courses, rather than studying for undergraduate degrees. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, international students accounted for 22% of the total student population in 2020-21, while 15.7% of undergraduates and 39.1% of postgraduates came from overseas.

Marchant said: “As a country, we need to be welcoming to undergraduate international students who want to come and study here, as we’re aware that we are competing in a global market where students are also attracted by study in countries such as Australia, Canada and the US.”

Students awaiting their A-level results on Thursday have endured significant disruption to their studies due to Covid and have been told to expect far fewer top grades as the government attempts to get grades back to pre-pandemic levels.

Marchant said she felt sympathy for them. “These are individuals who haven’t gone through an external exam before so of course there is going to be a level of anxiety when it comes to Thursday.”