British nationals are understandably perturbed by Government proposals to allow university fees to double, especially since the cost of a university education was very little in recent memory. However, overseas students from outside the EU have been paying a great deal more and experiencing substantial cost increases. How will the recent announcements affect those international students? The answer may surprise you.
Widespread Student Protests
Images of tens of thousands of British students protesting proposed reductions in higher education spending have been splashed across television, newspapers, and websites for several weeks. Both university students and secondary school students have participated, some walking out of classrooms to do so. Protests have been mostly peaceful, although an attack on a police vehicle, some shoving skirmishes, injuries and arrests have taken place.
Part of a larger scheme of domestic spending reductions, the announced cuts would amount to a whopping 3 billion GBPs ($4.7 billion) per year. To offset the reductions, universities would be allowed to increase tuition fees for UK residents from the current maximum of 3,290 GBPs per year to 6,000, rising to 9,000 “in exceptional circumstances.” In U.S. dollar terms, the current tuition cap is $5186 and the revised cap $9468, rising to $14,201 in some cases.
Higher Fees for Overseas Students
The backdrop to these recent developments has been a sharp divergence in tuition fees charged for UK and other EU students and those charged of international students from elsewhere in the world, including the U.S. While rates for UK/EU students have remained capped, tuition paid by non-EU international students has climbed. For example, 2010-2011 tuition at the University of Manchester for UK/EU undergraduate students is 3290 GBPs ($5,186), while international students from outside the EU pay 11,300 GBPs ($17,811) for Arts courses of study and 14,200 GBPs ($22,377) for Sciences courses. Some specialized courses cost even more.
Prime Minister David Cameron conceded that overseas students have been subsidizing underfunded British universities when he said:
“In the past we have been pushing up fees for overseas students and using that as a way of keeping them down for domestic students. We have done the difficult thing. We have put up contributions for British students. Yes, foreign students will still pay a significant amount of money but we should now be able to keep that growth under control.” (quotation from Telegraph, Nov. 10, cited below)
The Prime Minister made these remarks during a recent trip to Beijing, China. China sends more students to British universities than any other nation-with India, the U.S., Hong Kong, and Malaysia also sending large numbers of overseas students. In fact the number of overseas (non-EU) students winning places at British universities has doubled over the past decade from 122,150 in 1998-1999 to 251,310 in 2008-2009, with the fraction increasing from 6.6 percent to 10.4 percent. The weakened value of the pound sterling has been a factor pushing upwards on foreign applications, but the fact that British universities are looking to international students to make up revenue shortfalls is indisputable.
Americans who hope to study at British universities will want to keep a close eye on the actions taken by the British government over the next several weeks. If the Government proposals are approved, it could well moderate increases in tuition fees charged for overseas students. However, if the protestors make inroads and proposals are rejected or greatly scaled back, tuition rates for overseas students could continue to rise sharply.
In addition, over the longer term, Americans should keep an eye on how the reductions in Government funding for British universities affect the quality of the programs offered. If facilities and faculty salaries are not maintained, even the top British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge will slip in the international rankings. This is an outcome none of us wants to see. Ironically, if the funding cuts reduce the quality of British higher education, fewer international students will be lining up to pay the tuition and the quality could decline even more. Let’s hope that British universities find financial stability and that worst case scenario never comes to pass.
BBC News coverage of student protests, November 24, 2010
“David Cameron admits tuition fees increase will keep cost to foreign students down“ by Andrew Porter, Political Editor, theTelegraph, November 10, 2010.
Website of the University of Manchester
” Foreign Students Double in a Decade” by Graeme Paton, Education Editor, the Telegraph, September 14, 2010.