Call to guard standards against fee grab

August 24, 2007

Universities must stop dropping standards solely to bring in the fees of international graduate students, the new general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee has urged.

Duncan Connors, who was elected by delegates of the committee at its annual conference this month, said he would use his two-year sabbatical term to push the Quality Assurance Agency and universities to take a tougher stance on standards for international students.

"Regardless of how much money someone pays, [institutions] need to make sure the same standard applies and there is no moving of the standards just for money," he said.

Mr Connors, who is working toward a PhD in economic history at Glasgow University, said he had noticed a particular decline on taught masters courses. "They are very expensive and very ill-defined," he said.

He claimed to be aware of instances where academics had said an international student's work was of inferior quality but the student had still been awarded a degree, although he added that the majority of international students were hard-working and intelligent.

Mr Connors also criticised summer schools for international students that offered a certificate from a well-known institution but "no educational quality".

"We have to ask ourselves whether it's worth the money," he said.

International students were getting a raw deal in their PhD programmes and campus experiences. Their supervisors' lack of awareness of cultural differences meant many were not finishing in time, while student unions failed to "integrate them, make them feel wanted".

The QAA disputed Mr Connors' remarks.

"It is clear that, overall, institutions 'have established suitable arrangements to recruit, induct and support international students' and those with large numbers of international students appreciate the importance of meeting their expectations and providing specialist academic and personal support," the agency said in a statement drawing on its earlier reports.

The NPC will also campaign against a proposed academic boycott of Israeli universities. Andre Oboler was elected at the conference to act as an ambassador for the NPC in Israel, where he will be carrying out postdoctoral research.

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