EU recruitment boom prompts student finance warning

Universities believed to be looking to Continent to make up shortfalls in domestic enrolment

August 20, 2015
Airport arrivals lounge

The number of European Union applicants being accepted by English universities has risen dramatically following the lifting of number controls, prompting warnings about pressure on the student finance system.

Ucas data show that, five days after A-level results were released, higher education providers in England had placed 20,430 EU learners from outside the UK, 14 per cent more than at the same point last year.

This represents a significant acceleration of a trend: in 2014-15, English universities’ EU recruitment was 8 per cent higher than the year before.

Institutions looking to fill their places or to expand are thought to be drawing on the continental market in the absence of significant growth in the pool of domestic 18-year-old applicants.

Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told Times Higher Education that there were “a lot of drivers that mean this growth is expected to continue in the next few years”.

“There are push factors, in that people want to study in a good university system, and pull factors, which are partly financial, because universities can fill their places and these are full £9,000-paying students,” he said. “They also stand to get good students who can help the diversity of the classroom.”

There is potential for more growth in EU recruitment from outside the UK because the proportion of European applicants who ultimately accept an offer is currently 54 per cent, compared with 73 per cent for UK applicants.

At home, and in arrears 

But while many will welcome the increased international diversity on campus, there are concerns about the impact on the student finance system because it can prove difficult to secure repayments on tuition fee loans if learners leave the UK.

Data published by the Student Loans Company in June show that 10 per cent of EU borrowers who studied at English universities had provided no details of their income and had, as a result, been placed in arrears. The company was seeking information about another 16 per cent who were not currently repaying.

The amount owed by EU students attending English universities stood at £343.6 million in 2013-14, up 634 per cent in four years.

Mr Hillman said that the UK should consider setting up bilateral loan collection arrangements where possible. He also suggested that it examine the example of New Zealand, where foreign graduates who leave the country are made to pay commercial interest rates and, if in arrears on student loans, risk having their passports confiscated on their return.

“This is a problem, and if there are more EU students the scale of the problem will get bigger,” Mr Hillman said. “I’m not suggesting that we have a system where we start snaffling people’s passports away, but at the moment we have a system that is definitely too lax.”

Universities across the UK had placed 461,120 applicants by the end of 17 August, up 3 per cent on the same point last year. Recruitment was up 6 per cent at the most selective institutions, up 4 per cent at medium-tariff universities, and was flat at lower-tariff institutions.

UK-wide, the growth in EU recruitment was greatest at medium-tariff institutions – 12 per cent. The rise prompted speculation that universities that had been squeezed by the expansion of elite institutions were turning to continental applicants. EU recruitment was up by 11 per cent at high-tariff universities, and by 7 per cent at lower-tariff institutions.

Across the UK, the number of EU students given places was up 10 per cent, but it was down 6 per cent in Scotland.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Recruitment boom from Continent prompts warning over student finance

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest