UK international recruitment model ‘heading for a crash’ – v-c

Plugging gaps with higher fees paid by students from overseas has allowed institutions to dodge political battles over funding, but it won’t last

三月 1, 2023
Source: iStock

UK higher education is caught in a “fortuitous trap” and will keep using international fees to plug financial shortfalls until a crash forces universities to confront the challenges they face, a sector leader has warned.

Shitij Kapur, president of King’s College London, said the surge in international student flows post-pandemic had helped the UK put off fighting political battles over the need for more funding for higher education, but this was a “dangerous” path.

“What worries me is we are not properly funding what are the legitimate needs of the next generation in the UK,” Professor Kapur, who returned to the UK from Australia to take over the running of the highly ranked institution in 2021, told the International Higher Education Forum.

“We’ve fallen into a very fortuitous trap. I call it fortuitous because it is fortunate, a trap because that is exactly what it is.

“A surge of international students have arrived just at the time the needs of UK universities were increasing and rather than fighting the political battles – or losing them – we have settled for a formula which now makes us vulnerable.

“Inflation is up 10 per cent, there will be salary agreements across the UK higher education sector which may cost us anywhere between 5 and 8 per cent and our domestic fees will not change.

“It is not as though the workloads of our staff are already low and we can do with a fewer number of them. So, you can imagine where the pressure will go; it will go on international fees and we will find ourselves in a very vicious circle.”

Professor Kapur acknowledged that the problem has been repeatedly stated but that had not stopped it from getting bigger.

“I think it is heading for some kind of a crash and only then will we develop the national resolve to address it,” he added. “Until then we will keep taking the nationally easier option, but a dangerous one.”

Speakers at the two-day event, organised by Universities UK International (UUKi), have repeatedly warned that international recruitment is likely to become harder for the UK in the coming years after the large rises in student numbers seen in the 2020s so far.

Jazreel Goh, the director of Malaysia for the British Council, said geopolitics, questions about return on investment and the improving quality of home institutions were all influencing the choices of students in her region, with the UK likely to have to work harder to convince students to travel as a result.

“Students make decisions about where and whether to study overseas based on what they think the future will look like tomorrow and 30 years from now,” Ms Goh said.

“Asia is a region indisputably moving into China’s orbit…nearly all roads now lead to Beijing. The UK is increasingly standing on the opposite side of this divide.”

Competition from high-quality local offers in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and China were also removing some of the motivation for going further afield, she added, saying this context was contributing to the changing needs and expectations of those who do still want to study in the west. 

“They are expecting very rapid response rates; measured by minutes not days. When they get to the UK they expect [pastoral] support, not just for themselves but for their dependants…When they graduate they are looking for support with career development.”

Universities will have to invest more to meet these changing expectations, she said, including potentially paying for teams on the ground in target markets.

Professor Kapur highlighted how the fees for international students are often three times their country’s national gross domestic product per person, which, if transferred to the UK context, was the equivalent of students having to pay £100,000-a-year for three years.

He said efforts to take widening participation seriously in a national context have not been replicated internationally and most foreign students still come from a very narrow segment of their home society.

“We do not have scholarships for them. In an evolved system, you could see how universities could set aside say 3 per cent of their international fees for a widening participation initiative…if we don’t think about this, in 10 years from now we will not be as attractive a destination as we are today,” Professor Kapur said.

Like this story? Get more like it in your inbox – sign up to our newsletters.



  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.