A Sunday Times investigation from August 2017 alleged that many top UK universities are discriminating against British fee status students as the universities seek to attract more international students and their higher fee rates, going so far as to accept those with poorer qualifications. SOAS management’s increasing admission of international students has led to speculations of their complicity in such practices.
Under the heading ‘About SOAS’ the university website suggests that the school’s ratio of UK to international students is currently one to one. The Annual Student Diversity Report for the 2011-12 academic year shows that the ratio of UK to international students was a far higher two to one, indicating SOAS has significantly increased the allocated number of seats for international students. Since that year’s issue, the Annual Student Diversity Report has not included statistics of the ratio of UK to international students, instead focusing on the ethnic distribution of students, without reference to their fee status.
SOAS’ statistics are reflective of a general trend of increasing numbers of international students and decreasing numbers of UK students in higher education. Across 23 universities, the number of domestic fee-paying students fell by more than 33,000 between 2008 and 2016 while the number of international students rose by 22,000.
The Sunday Times investigation showed that many universities are admitting less qualified international students. Thousands of overseas students are being granted fast-track admissions without needing to take A-levels or an equivalent, and are completing a six-month foundation course instead.
One student at SOAS told The Spirit that, despite being a British citizen, she is paying international fees because she spent the last three years of her education overseas. She explained, ‘my friends that were abroad during their final school years also had to pay international fees, unless you had an address here and flew out every summer, and even then home fees were not guaranteed. Why are they giving more well-off people a break?’
Universities UK estimated that international students contributed a whopping £25bn to the British economy in 2015, with indications that the figures will continue to rise. Of that sum, students paid £4.8bn in tuition fees, 87.5% of which came from outside the EU. Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK, said that ‘These figures highlight the enormous economic contribution international students now make to UK plc and to jobs and communities in every region of the UK.’
Remarking on Dame Goodfellow’s statement, one student from the United States said, this is ‘British academic-speak’ describing her feeling that statements such as these are heavily concerned with revenue from education and its contribution to the British economy, reflecting the wider move towards the corporatisation of higher education in the UK, especially in the context of last year’s UCU strike.
Universities UK recognised that ‘international students also enrich our campuses and the experience of UK students, both academically and culturally.’ Sabrina Shah, one of SOAS SU’s joint POC officers, said ‘Since the increase of the proportion of international students especially at SOAS and in the context of the general trend of commodification of higher education in the UK, it’s fair to argue that we should be raising questions about a system that seems to give university places to the highest bidder.’ They added that although international students are ‘an asset to any institution,’ ‘they should be allocated university places based on merit as highlighted on the university webpage.’
The Department of Education’s new Higher Education and Research Act’s ‘Office for Students’ will be monitoring admissions to see whether discrimination is taking place. However, since the bill’s enactment in April 2017 there is no indication that this issue has been resolved as the numbers of international students continue to rise while home student numbers are falling.
SOAS admissions were approached for comment.
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