Universities’ international admissions to be reviewedon February 2, 2024 at 6:14 pm

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Universities UK says students must have confidence that the system is ‘fair, transparent and robust’.

University students graduatingImage source, Getty Images

University admissions processes will be reviewed after concerns about the recruitment of international students.

Universities UK said students, their families and the government must have confidence that the system is “fair, transparent and robust”.

It follows accusations that universities have been lowering standards to recruit overseas students, who pay higher tuition fees.

Universities say their processes have been misrepresented.

Universities UK, which represents 142 institutions, said in a statement: “There has been a significant focus on recruitment practices relating to international students in recent weeks.

“While many aspects of the reporting misrepresented the admissions process and criteria, it is vital that students, their families, and government have confidence that the system is fair, transparent, and robust.

“Where there is practice that falls below the standards expected of our universities and their representatives, we will take action.”

The recent media coverage includes a Financial Times report that said the University of York was lowering its entry requirements for international students. The university’s vice-chancellor told the BBC that the “more flexible approach” was “exactly what we do for our home students every year”.

A subsequent Sunday Times report claimed international students were using “secret routes” to “buy their way in” to Russell Group universities.

In response, the group of 24 prestigious universities said the reporting referred to foundation year programmes for international students which had been “incorrectly conflated” with degree programmes – adding that foundation year programmes were also available for UK students.

The Universities UK Board said it was taking three “immediate actions”:

  • A “rapid review” of foundation programmes for international and domestic students, looking at their “quality and comparability”
  • A review of the Agent Quality Framework, which outlines “checks and balances” when universities use agents to help recruit international students
  • A review of the Admissions Code of Practice, which sets out expectations for university processes

Universities can get more money from international students because their tuition fees are not capped like those of domestic students.

The most a student in the UK will pay for a year of undergraduate tuition is £9,250 (the exact amount depends on where they live in the UK). Universities say the fees have not kept up with the rate of inflation, and are worth less than they used to be.

International students, meanwhile, can pay £38,000 per year for undergraduate courses and £30,000 per year for postgraduate courses.

An increase in the number of international students over recent years has been driven by applications for postgraduate degrees, like master’s degrees, according to migration research from the University of Oxford – rather than the undergraduate courses studied by many 18-year-olds in the UK.

Policy changes this year mean international students can no longer bring family members with them unless they are on research courses or have government-funded scholarships.

But the UK government also has a target of 600,000 international students per year studying in the UK by 2030 – which it has surpassed twice.

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