UK Universities Lament Over International Students Shunning Them Over ‘Unfavourable Atmosphere’

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International Students in the UK / via Britannica

International students are pulling out of university courses because of an “unfavourable atmosphere” created by ministers, a vice-chancellor has claimed.

Statistics on Drop In International Students Pulling Out of UK University

Prof David Latchman, Vice Chancellor of the University of Birkbeck, said the university saw a 10 per cent drop in international students starting in October after many who had accepted places pulled out.

Why International Students Are Ignoring the UK

It came after Rishi Sunak announced in May there would be a crackdown on overseas students bringing family members to the UK as part of a push to bring down legal migration.

Fear of UK Universities Over Their Income

UK universities fear they could face financial peril if visa restrictions put off overseas students because many institutions have targeted international students to boost their income in recent years.

There is no cap on international student fees, whereas tuition fees for British students have been frozen at £9,250 in England since 2017.

At Birkbeck, the London university known for its evening courses, the number of full-time international students rose to a record 1,070 in 2022-23.

However, it is set to report a fall in numbers for the current academic year.

Prof Latchman, who stands down as vice-chancellor this week after 20 years in the role, said that the university funding system was “unsustainable” and accused the Government of appealing to “xenophobia”.

He said:

“I think there’s a total failure to understand that you can’t have a business in inverted commas where you say your business has two products – over here, you can’t charge more than this, however much the costs increase [for domestic students]. And over here, I’m going to do our best to discourage people from taking up your business where you can charge more [for international students].”

He added: “We can’t carry on like this.”

Voluntary redundancies Used By UK Varsities

Birkbeck has made about 70 voluntary redundancies in an attempt to shore up its finances.

Other universities, including Kent and East Anglia, have also launched voluntary redundancy schemes amid funding pressures.

More Statistics from UCAS on International Students Enrolment

Ucas figures show there was a decline in the number of accepted international students in 2023 to 71,570, down 3 per cent from 73,820 last year and 7 per cent from 76,905 in 2019.

For international students from outside the EU, there were 61,055 acceptances for 2023, down 2 per cent from 62,455 in 2022, but 34 per cent up from 45,455 in 2019.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said he disagreed that international students had been put off by an “unfavourable atmosphere”.

He said:

“British universities are just as welcoming to genuine overseas students as they have always been. University entry, however, has been increasingly used as a migration route into this country, both illegal using the precious visa solely as a way in and legal when a student, for example, comes with a large extended family all of whom aim to settle here. The Government is rightly attempting to clamp down on this.”

Reaction From UK Government on International Students on the Rise of International Students and Their Dependants

A government spokesman said:

“The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world’s best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependants being brought into the country with visas.

“The Government will work with universities to design an alternative approach, in order to continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK, and so postgraduate taught students can bring dependants to the UK’s world-leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration.”

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