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mathildahines
8th April 2024

Have universities become too reliant on international fees?

Alleged disparities in entry requirements between internal and international students raise questions about universities’ reliance on international fees, and the impact this may have on internal students
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Have universities become too reliant on international fees?
Credit: Vita Student @ Flickr

The Sunday Times’ exposé released earlier this year unearthed a disparity in grade offers between international and domestic students by Russell Group universities. Outraged by the significantly lower entry offers to international students, people are forced to reckon with the financial motivations of the higher education system.

The paper’s inquiry discovered that overseas students wishing to study an economics degree using one of the pathways needed grades of CCC at Bristol; CCD at Durham; DDE at Exeter; DDE at Newcastle; and just a single D at Leeds. Yet the same universities’ A-level entry requirements for UK students are A*AA or AAA. All five universities also accept younger overseas students, who have not taken A-levels or equivalent, with just five C or B grades at GCSE level. 

An investigation by The Guardian last year found that international students accounted for one in every five pounds in income received by UK universities. This dependency somewhat explains the alleged leeway that’s been allowed in order to secure income – even if it’s at the expense of British students. 

However, whilst this seems visibly unfair for domestic students who might be rejected in favour of their international counterparts, this could also negatively impact the higher education of these international students. Not only are some universities potentially exploiting them for their money, but in practice, the foreign students who have not achieved the grade equivalents of their British peers are more likely to academically struggle in the same courses. 

What’s more, the alleged reliance on international students’ funding is both unstable and unreliable; it’s an inadequate long-term financial plan for universities. Whether this is due to administrative laziness from universities or underfunding and neglect from government institutions, I’m unsure – maybe it’s a mix of both.

I want to also draw attention to the fact that universities and their vice-chancellors are, if anything, encouraged to run their institutions as businesses. When domestic students are being charged a quarter of the fees of international students, you can see why these ‘back doors’ have been established. There is an obvious issue that revolves around the government’s lack of support and the lengths universities will go to to make up for it.

The University of Manchester, amongst other Russell Group universities, is currently denying these allegations. The university argued that they‘re strongly committed to fair admissions and ‘apply the same academic entry requirements to both domestic and international applicants’ in their online statement. However, this denial opposes the evidence of such a comprehensive study.

As a domestic student who, like my peers, experienced the stressful and gruelling process of A-levels and applications, it is appallingly unjust to see a potential bias in my acceptance. Having also been a victim of the COVID year that meant I didn’t sit my GCSEs, the predicted grades that I sent off to my chosen universities were based on my SATs scores that I took at the ripe age of ten. This chosen system still baffles me and it added another factor in making getting accepted into universities that much harder.

In conjunction with online lessons for the majority of year 12, it is safe to say that my academic year was already extremely restricted. This idea of the hard work of thousands of students being dismissed in favour of financial gain is unacceptable, especially with the difficulties that the last few academic years have thrown at us. Whilst making offers to foreign students reaps many benefits, increased diversity being a prominent one, it shouldn’t be at the expense of internal students.

The precedent this sets for our public institutions is also called into question. Can we not trust supposedly impartial universities to not prioritise money over the higher education of young people? Their priorities appear to be extremely amiss. 

Despite the definite drop in foreign applications after Brexit, there is still a huge number of international students who apply to UK universities. However, if these universities’ financial strategies lower their academic standards and switch up their demographic, it would be interesting to know if, over time, this could lead to a lowered attraction to foreign students and a consequent further decline in their applications. Either way, these allegations point to a short-term plan that could have grave consequences. 


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