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9th April 2024

Lower entry requirements for international students? An international student’s perspective

Universities have been accused of offering international students lower entry grade requirements, but what does this reveal about our higher education institutions, and how does it affect the way international students are viewed?
Lower entry requirements for international students? An international student’s perspective
Credit: Gül Işık @ Pexels

As discussions grow over quite how lucrative international students are, fairness, and migration, it seems like the opinions of international students themselves have been left out of the picture.

UK universities, as both educational institutions and businesses, have always been at the centre of debates about whether they value profit over their students. With Brexit causing a significant drop in international students, who greatly financially support universities through higher tuition fees, these institutions have been scrambling to gain more international applicants; a report released by The Sunday Times revealed that universities may be lowering entry requirements for international students in order to maximise financial gains.

Having been through the university application system as a foreigner myself, I believe that there are some truths to these accusations. I am, however, both surprised and disheartened by current discussions around international students.

Arriving in the UK, in the midst of an unstable Tory government, with levels of anti-foreigner rhetoric flying through the rough, it seems like international students are only respected if they are contributing to the economy. I believe this is not only indicative of how late-stage capitalism has affected our educational institutions but also how we treat foreign-born people. 

It has been well over a year since I started my UCAS application. Confused over what a reference is and agonising over my personal statement, I came across a section of the application form where you detail if you are represented by an agent for the application. Silly me thought that this was mandatory as an international student (keep in mind that most students like me receive little to no guidance over how UCAS works).

With further research, I found out about UCAS agents as well as centres across the world that assist students in their application process to UK universities. Offering young students guidance on how to navigate the education system of a foreign country sounds harmless enough, right? Helpful, even? Unfortunately, the systems I’ve encountered are more or less corrupt.

Agents earn commissions from universities and would often recommend them based on how much they could earn from these commissions. From directly contacting these agents in my home country about what they actually do, they said they’d represent me to the universities I wanted to attend, but only for a fee I could not afford. Alarm bells were ringing. Why is there a financial incentive to help students in their application process? Why are agents and universities working directly with each other?

The University of Manchester was among the universities, listed by The Sunday Times, that were accused of lowering the entry requirements for international students. Students whose grades do not meet the requirements for the course would be offered a foundation course, which is an alternative that would help them reach an equivalent with home students entering after A-Levels. However, these institutions, including the University of Manchester, have denied these allegations. They have also claimed to start reviewing international foundation courses as well as agencies abroad to identify bad practices and ensure fairness in the admission process. 

What bothers me in these discussions is that international students are only referred to as numbers, from our tuition fee payments to net migration. In this capitalist world, students with hopes and dreams are reduced to numbers on a graph.

While the current controversy around entry requirements puts into question the meritocratic system of education, it seems like opinions around these topics only value international students if they contribute financially to the system. 

International students offer more than just pocket money for universities. It is mostly through us that domestic students get the chance to explore and immerse themselves in different cultures as well as learn about new perspectives. With growing desires to decolonize the curriculum, especially in the social sciences and humanities departments, the views and opinions of foreign-born people living in a historically significant empire are incredibly important.

Living in the UK as an international student is difficult enough with having to adapt to the culture and dealing with microaggressions, especially during this volatile political climate. With mounting pressure about migration status because of extreme changes to visas and mandatory visa check-ins, the last thing we need is a public that denies us our merits for being here.

While I do believe reforms that ensure fairness between international and domestic students should take place, I hope these discussions do not lead to further indifference towards us. It seems as if the general portrayal of international students is that we are both rewarded with education for the ability to pay while being witch-hunted for the crime of being foreign.

These issues being brought to light are only indicative of how capitalism has shaped educational institutions by turning education into a commodity and its students into clients.

In the midst of these conversations where international students are reduced to numbers, the best one could do is to attribute humanity to these numerical values. I doubt the nature of discussions regarding international students will change in the future because universities will continue to rely on us to subsidise the tuition of domestic students.

I hope readers will keep in mind that every student will prove themselves to be deserving of a place at the institution one way or another, and that international students are more than just the financial backbone of your higher education institution.

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