Half of university top places 'to go to foreign students'

Edinburgh University, one of Britain’s leading universities, says it wants to see 50 per cent of places go to students from outside the UK. Figures show that institutions are increasingly reliant on foreign fees. This will mean that the number of British students being admitted will effectively be limited to 50 per cent. There is a major drive to recruit foreign talent.

Edinburgh University wants 50 per cent of its students to come from outside the UK. Photograph: The Telegraph Edinburgh University wants 50 per cent of its students to come from outside the UK. Photograph: The Telegraph
23-11-2014 by The Telegraph

One of Britain’s leading universities, Edinburgh University, is to effectively limit the number of British students being admitted to 50 per cent.  This is part of a major drive to recruit foreign talent.

"Edinburgh University – a member of the elite Russell Group – says it wants to ensure half of places go to overseas students within a few years."

The move coincides with a plan to recruit at least 2,000 extra international students. International students can be charged tuition fees up to three times higher than their British counterparts.

This increase would make Edinburgh the second-biggest foreign recruiter among mainstream universities.  Only the London School of Economics takes in more students from overseas.

According to the University, the move was motivated by an attempt to “attract the best students from around the world” – with many given bursaries to attend.  The University insisted there would be no reduction in the raw number of school leavers recruited from within the UK.

New figures from Universities UK show that universities are more reliant than ever on fees from foreign students. Some £3.5 billion in fee income was received from students outside the EU in 2012/13. This is almost triple the number just a decade earlier. In all, internaitional students accounted for 12 per cent of universities’ total income of £29.1bn.  This is up from less than 10 per cent four years ago. 

"The sheer rise in the number of overseas students has sparked claims that foreigners are being used as “cash cows” to prop up budgets in the face of brutal cuts in central government grants."

According to one academic, large numbers of students have been recruited with a poor grasp of English, who are often unable to keep up with the academic demands of courses. But university leaders defended the rise.  They  insisted that the recruitment processes were rigorous, adding that international students provided huge cultural and educational benefits to the country.

A higher education expert from PA Consulting, Mike Boxall, said overseas students were “very attractive to universities”.  The reason for this is that they can be charged unlimited fees. He added that there were reputational benefits also, since some international league tables give credit to universities that have a higher proportion of overseas students and staff.  However, “If you have over 40 per cent of your students from overseas on some courses it is going to change the student experience," he said.

“Some academics and registrars believe that they have as many international students as they want and universities must manage this process carefully to ensure they don’t almost exceed a cultural limit."

In the last three decades foreign student numbers have boomed. In the early '80s, fewer than 50,000 students were from outside Britain. But in the by last year foreign student numbers have increased to 425,000 – 18 per cent of the total student population.

According to the latest figures of the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 33 per cent of Edinburgh’s 28,000 students were from outside the UK in 2012/13. This figure included undergraduates and postgraduates.  The most recent figure according to Edinburgh was actually 41 per cent. The highest proportion, by comparison, was at the London School of Economics, with 67 per cent. Numbers are also high at some specialist institutions.  The London Business School has 71 per cent and Cranfield University, 54 per cent.  These focus exclusively on postgraduate courses. At Cambridge, the numbers were 32 per cent and at Oxford, 27 per cent.

Edinburgh’s vice-chancellor, Sir Timothy O'Shea, told a recent meeting of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference that it was the university’s “long-term aspiration” to increase the proportion to 50 per cent. The university denied it was a "target".

According to HESA, 9,145 of Edinburgh's students were from outside the UK in 2012/13.  This figure includes just over 6,000 from beyond the EU. According to the university’s strategic plan for 2012/16, it wants to “Increase our headcount of non-EU international students by at least 2,000”.  However, Edinburgh insisted there would be no cut to student numbers from Scotland or the rest of the UK. It added that it would not impose further targets such as limiting the proportion of students from Scotland to no more than 25 per cent – with another quarter coming from elsewhere in the UK. 

"Foreigners can be charged higher fees than UK and EU students, with undergraduate charges ranging from £15,850 for most classroom-based courses at Edinburgh to £29,000 in the case of veterinary medicine. Scottish and EU students are currently given free tuition while those from elsewhere in the UK pay £9,000.  At postgraduate level, overseas students pay £37,200 for clinical sciences, compared with £16,500 fees for UK/EU students."

A former pro-vice chancellor of Warwick University, Prof Susan Bassnett, said two years ago that foreign students were being used as “cash cows”, with some being admitted with such a poor grasp of English that they “wouldn’t scrape a GCSE”. 

However, an Edinburgh spokesman said: “As a university with a strong international reputation, rooted firmly in Edinburgh, we want to attract the best students from around the world. We also want to encourage our students to enhance their wider skills and career prospects through work or study overseas during their degree. "Looking forward, we do not intend to reduce the numbers of our Scottish-domiciled or [rest of the UK] domiciled students. As the university continues to grow, we will seek to offer opportunities to more students from outside the UK, many of whom will be supported by our generous bursaries programme."

The chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge said: “There is growing global demand for quality higher education and the UK is one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students. “It is widely accepted that international students bring a wide range of benefits to the UK. Increasing the number of international students coming to the UK could bring enormous benefits to economies in all corners of the country. Income from universities’ international activities is projected to grow considerably in the coming years. “However, it is not only about economic benefits. International students, researchers and staff also make an enormous contribution to the academic and cultural life of the UK.”

London Business School 71%
London School of Economics 67%
Cranfield 54%
Royal College of Art 53%
Royal College of Music 50%
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 49%
Royal Academy of Music 48%
School of Oriental and African Studies 47%
Buckingham 47%
St Andrews 46%
Imperial College 43%
University of the Arts, London 43%
Glyndwr University 43%
University College London 41%
Heriot-Watt 36%
Essex 33%
Warwick 33%
Edinburgh 33%
Sunderland 32%
Lancaster 31%
*Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency 2012/13. Includes undergraduate and postgraduate.