Continued growth in the number of overseas students recruited by UK universities is forcing institutions to rethink campus culture and their student financial support arrangements.
New figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show a 19.6 per cent rise in the number of overseas students accepted into UK higher education last year compared with 2001.
An analysis by the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs (Ukcosa) shows that this is continuing a trend that began in 1989. It was boosted by the prime minister's initiative to attract more international students, launched in 1999.
Although Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2001 indicated an apparent fall in numbers, this was due to a change in the counting method used, which excluded visiting and incoming exchange students.
Adjusting for the change, Ukcosa found that the number of overseas students recruited in 2001 amounted to a 15 per cent increase on the previous year.
A survey by Ukcosa shows that many institutions are making adjustments to fee policies, arrangements for student support and counselling and to campus life in an effort to accommodate the increasing numbers of international students.
It found that 61 per cent of institutions offered discounts ranging from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of fees to some categories of overseas students. Overseas students were automatically allowed to pay fees in instalments by all but two of 36 institutions surveyed.
According to Ukcosa chief executive Clive Saville, this was part of broader strategic changes being made by institutions to take account of the fact that their student profile was becoming more international.
He said: "Many more institutions are thinking more carefully about the nature of life on campus and how it relates to the student population where quite a high proportion are international students, who may be mature, not into a beer-drinking culture, and already hold quite a high status in their own country."
But some institutions are still struggling to adjust to the expectations and demands of students from distant countries who have different educational as well as social and religious cultures.
The Ucas figures show a 67 per cent increase in the number of Chinese students accepted on to courses last year, rising from 2,570 to 4,302, and a 31 per cent increase in the number from India, up from 772 to 1,014.
Mr Saville said: "At one end of the spectrum, you have some institutions now saying they don't want any more Chinese students because they are so demanding. They expect to be taught for seven hours a day rather than seven hours a week. The common response is to say that the students should adapt to our way of doing things. But it may be that we can learn from them as well."
Institutions are having to make careful decisions about how and when to respond to requests for financial help from overseas students, some of whom may have arrived with unrealistic expectations, he added. Just under half the institutions surveyed offered hardship funds to overseas students.
"There is a world of difference between a student who has already been here for three years and gets into financial difficulty, and one who is asking for money in their first term," Mr Saville said.