Curry foreign favour, UK told

July 8, 2005

Academics must adapt their courses and teaching methods to better suit international students or lose out in the lucrative global market for overseas students, UK universities have been warned.

Rival institutions in Australia and Canada have done more than those in the UK to tailor courses to suit international students. Overseas student enrolment is up 15 per cent in Australia. Canada is spending C$10 million (£4.6 million) a year for five years to target international students.

David Killick, head of Leeds Metropolitan University's Office for International Programmes, said: "Unless universities adopt a more educational view of internationalisation, they risk short-changing home students and losing out in a sophisticated international market. It's the duty of universities to prepare all students to operate in a global context. We are one of the few institutions that is tackling that strategically."

The wake-up call, delivered last week at the inaugural Higher Education Academy conference, came as university heads condemned government plans to deny the right of appeal to foreign students whose visa applications have been rejected. Universities UK said that this - coming after recent hikes in the cost of entry and extension visas - sent out a negative message.

Christopher Wade, the British Council's director of communications, said international students bring £6 billion a year into the economy.

"They underpin our research base and help maintain the competitiveness of the sector in a fast-expanding global market."

Yet, Mr Killick argued, universities were failing to look beyond recruiting students for financial gain to modifying courses and teaching methods to help integrate them fully. Measures should range from introductory courses on how universities teach students, to changes to the content of degree courses to include more overseas case studies and more informal interactive tutorials.

Leeds Met has set up an international faculty, and its 23 deans consider overseas students in their course design.

Emma Bettinson, international student adviser at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, said there was a growing trend for universities to look at internationalisation.

University College London is working on an international strategy.

Leicester and Bournemouth universities are among those to have established them.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of the Council for International Education, said: "Universities are now beginning to ask far bigger questions about the nature of their curricula and the link between UK and international students."

The UK lost out on recruiting thousands of Indian students on MBA courses because they would not remove the work-experience element of courses, he said.

Exeter University, meanwhile, is the first institution to refund entry-visa fee charges. John Withrington, its director of student recruitment and admissions, said: "We feel the UK is sending negative messages to international students about our willingness to attract them."

But the Government will not budge on the right to visa appeals. Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "The important thing is getting the decision right in the first instance, and UK Visas is undertaking some work to try to ensure that the initial decision-making is much better."

anthea.lippset@thes.co.uk

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