'Bargains' lure Asians

August 7, 1998

British universities have started an "irresponsible" recruitment war for overseas students affected by the South-east Asian currency crisis, it was claimed this week.

Many are offering "bargain basement" one-year deals that could lure students who may find they cannot afford to continue their studies into a second year.

Free bus passes, cheap accommodation, loans and "meet and greet" services are among special offers being touted by institutions in advertisements and on websites.

Iain Bride, director of international relations at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and a board member of the British Council's education counselling service, said the marketing ploys used were "like soap powder advertising".

Institutions, backed by a government and British Council one-year scholarship scheme designed to help cash-strapped students from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea, are in fierce competition for the dwindling number of students who can afford to study in Britain.

Dr Bride said: "There is a danger these institutions are luring students over with these bargain basement offers in the hope that something will turn up to improve their financial position and allow them to continue their studies."

Dr Bride's comments came as the education counselling service, which institutions pay to market them at recruitment fairs overseas, unveiled new code of practice proposals.

In a letter to member institutions, Allan Barnes, ECS director, said the service will strengthen sections of the code relating to marketing and recruitment practice, information and admissions.

"These are areas that cause most concern and are where ECS is most engaged and competent to exercise control," he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the British Council said care had been taken with the national scholarship scheme to concentrate on retaining existing students or recruiting others to short courses.

"We hope universities are looking carefully at their recruitment policies. It is in no one's interest if students cannot afford to finish their course," she said.

Clive Saville, chief executive of the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs, said: "Both students and institutions have to think what the long-term position will be. Institutions should not make offers irresponsibly."

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