Banking on doubling foreign enrolments is 'unbelievable' aim

Universities are relying on unrealistic targets for overseas income, it is claimed. John Morgan reports

April 14, 2011

English universities are relying on "unbelievable" plans to increase international student numbers by up to 100 per cent in four years as government policy leads to fears of volatility in home student numbers.

Durham University plans for a 97 per cent increase in non-European Union undergraduates between now and 2014-15, while the University of Exeter is planning for a 73 per cent rise in certain areas in the same period.

Senior figures in the sector warn that universities are relying too heavily on unrealistic targets for overseas income in their financial planning.

For 2010-11, English higher education institutions aimed to increase their non-EU student fee income from £2.1 billion (9.6 per cent of total income) to £2.3 billion, according to figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

But in a statement to Times Higher Education, the funding body highlights increased competition for international students between UK universities, and fiercer recruitment battles with other nations.

A Hefce spokesman said this "implies optimism in some of the current growth forecasts".

Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of new universities, said Hefce had used stronger words in informal discussions about future projections.

"Every (institution's) strategic plan includes losses of money on home students and a massive increase in international students. (Hefce) says it is unbelievable. It is unlikely the numbers would increase by the amount people are predicting."

A Hefce spokesman said it would have to wait for universities to formally submit their long-term financial plans - due on 15 April - before it could "provide a comment on the realism of the forecasts".

Fees for home and EU students are limited by the government, which also caps the number of places to control costs to the taxpayer. But fees and places for non-EU students are not subject to such limits.

The highest international fee this year was at Imperial College London, where overseas undergraduates faced annual tuition charges of up to £26,250 in lab-based subjects.

Some universities are worried that home and EU student applications may decline when the maximum fee rises to £9,000 in 2012.

To add to their anxiety, the government has threatened to cut the number of places for home and EU students in a bid to control the cost of the loans system, as many universities propose to charge the maximum fee.

Professor Ebdon said: "If you prevent growth in one direction, it bursts out in another. There is a clear cause and effect."

But in a statement to THE, Shaun Curtis, Exeter's international director, says the university's growth strategy is not a response to domestic concerns but was "outlined in a new internationalisation strategy prior to the announcement of UK government funding cuts. Exeter's recruitment plans are driven by diversity as much as volume."

Dr Curtis says in minutes from an Exeter council meeting on 16 December: "Overall, excluding the Business School, delivery for 2014-15 would require 73 per cent growth on 2010-11 planned (international) numbers."

Without the Business School, the increase is 37 per cent. Exeter wants to host 4,000 non-EU students by 2014-15.

Minutes from a meeting of Durham's executive board, held on 22 February, state: "Undergraduate full-time home student numbers were forecast to decrease marginally over the planning period (2010-11 to 2014-15). Undergraduate full-time international student numbers were anticipated to grow by 97 per cent over the planning period."

A Durham spokesman said: "At present, international students make up approximately 9 per cent of the total undergraduate population. The forecasted increase is to 16 per cent of the total undergraduate population in 2014-15."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy