Business focus will hit science

April 23, 2004

British science will suffer as cash-strapped universities chase foreign income by selling professional courses to overseas students who pay full fees, according to a paper published this week by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Consultant Sachi Hatakenaka says that universities are lured by the ready overseas market for courses such as masters degrees in business studies and information technology.

These courses are relatively cheap for universities to deliver and they are popular choices for overseas students because they promise to lead to well-paid employment.

By contrast, science subjects are expensive to provide and less obviously attractive to overseas students seeking lucrative future careers.

The report says that market orientation drives international trends, with large global markets emerging around fee-paying students and smaller global markets emerging around high-calibre students that institutions seek to attract to enhance their reputations.

While this market-oriented internationalism is good for the expansion of activities that students are willing to pay for, it is insufficient to support expensive subjects such as science, Ms Hatakenaka argues.

Scientific developments leading to new economic opportunities and the research training of high-calibre international students are likely to suffer as a result.

British students could also suffer as universities rush to welcome overseas students. The current funding system means that universities benefit financially from taking overseas students from outside the European Union, who pay high tuition fees.

The tuition fees for British and European Union students are regulated by government; the state subsidies available for these students do not meet the full costs of teaching them.

Ms Hatakenaka says that the UK has to ensure that its international student base does not become distorted. She also questions whether policy-makers have intended to create the financial incentives for universities to recruit international students at the expense of domestic students.

She calls on the government to fund the collection of data on international staff mobility and the growth of educational opportunities provided by British institutions overseas.

Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science, said: "It's more expensive to do science and someone has to pay. National governments can ameliorate the effects to some extent, but they cannot do it internationally.

"One of the roles of government is to correct market failures. If we need a lot of scientists for our economy to thrive and we cannot get them, then government should intervene."

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