Britain's popularity with fee-paying foreign students will be jeopardised if the funding regime proposed by Sir Ron Dearing makes facilities uncompetitive, a British Council official has warned.
David Elliot, director of the council's higher education United Kingdom partners division, warns Sir Ron, whose inquiry into higher education is due to report this summer, that treating international students as "cash cows" will reduce the UK's market share.
Writing in the current edition of the relaunched Journal of International Education, he stressed the importance of funding selectively to maintain the international standing of British teaching and research. Failure to do so would have a "disastrous" effect on Britain's participation in cutting-edge collaborative research.
Rejecting some vice chancellors' belief that "diversity" made it harder to sell British education overseas, Mr Elliot said: "A diversity of mission which leads to quite explicit and unapologetic differences in research effort, course provision and course delivery strengthens the UK's marketing position. There is 'something for everyone' providing whatever is on offer is of excellent value."
Mr Elliot also urged the committee to assess the likely international impact of a graduate repayment scheme which many believe Sir Ron will recommend. Any scheme would reduce student enrolments from Europe, he said, as most came to Britain because they did not have to pay tuition fees.
He also urged caution over funding levels. If universities were squeezed too hard, they would not be able to continue assisting developing nations through research projects whose benefits far outweighed their costs.