Twenty-two Coventry University graphic design students boycotted their final-year degree show last week and instead issued a long catalogue of grievances.
The self-styled Coventry 22, most of them Chinese students who had paid tens of thousands of pounds for the course and accommodation, complained of poor teaching and support.
Instead of celebrating the completion of their degrees with an exhibition, they released a statement saying: "As premier fee-paying students, we expect a better service and feel that we have been poorly treated for the past three years."
The university has promised an investigation. Cyrrhian Macrae, director of corporate affairs, told The THES : "The fact that a group of students is clearly angry and disgruntled is a cause of concern to us and we will conduct an investigation into their complaints."
The students said: "We have been failed educationally - never having good lectures, tutorials or guidance." They said university literature in China had said they would be taught by "esteemed and learned" professors. But, they said, "our BA tutors are very unhelpful and have little or no experience of BA education."
A document obtained by the students and seen by The THES shows that Coventry's school of art and design faces a £484,000 deficit for 2002-03 and needs to find 1.5 redundancies and boost its income to survive. Dean Michael Tovey said that the school had to boost its overseas student numbers to help put the school into the black by 2004.
The student protest is likely to damage Coventry's reputation in China. "It is a comedy university," the students' statement said. "Unfortunately, it is not funny to usI it is a sorry state and we want the outside to know what happenedI we denounce the invoice and bill that comes with this kind of English education."
The university said the students had not raised their concerns through the proper channels. Ms Macrae said: "It is very difficult for the university to respond to these allegations since they have never been raised with the school."
But Ed Roberts, one of the students, said their complaints had been ignored and students were afraid to talk. They had been barred from telling the external examiner of their concerns, he said.