International applicants ‘not taking UK students’ places – yet’

Rebalancing of undergraduate intakes after fee freeze ‘not a factor’ this year but may prove important in future, says Ucas chief executive

August 15, 2022
A Chick of Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) in nest of Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris). Ryazan region (Ryazanskaya oblast), the Pronsky District, Denisovo.
Source: iStock

There is no evidence that large numbers of UK-based applicants have missed out on places at universities this year because of institutions admitting more international students, although this might change in future, according to the chief executive of Ucas.

Clare Marchant said that she had heard anecdotally of “a couple of universities” looking at whether to revise the blend of home and overseas students on their courses because of the decreasing real-terms value of the £9,250 home tuition fee, but it would be two to three years before this starts to have an impact on admissions.

“From a data perspective, we can’t see international students edging out UK students; that’s just not happening at a macro level”, she told a Higher Education Policy Institute webinar ahead of A-level results day later this week.

“It was not an issue for this year, but [it could be] in two to three years’ time,” she added.

With rising inflation and the Westminster government’s decision to freeze tuition fees after the Augar review, many institutions have complained that they receive dwindling income for every UK-based student they teach. This has prompted speculation that some higher-tariff universities will admit more students from overseas – who pay on average nearly three times more – to try to balance the books.

The Sunday Times reported that the most selective institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, have rejected four in 10 UK candidates this summer – the highest rejection rate ever – while at the same time international students will make up one in four undergraduates at Russell Group universities for the first time ever.

Ms Marchant said universities have “rightfully” been more cautious in their offer-marking this year, attributing this to the regulator Ofqual’s decision to deflate grades back towards 2019 levels. She argued that it had given students more certainty going through the cycle and that they had responded by making “savvy” decisions.

Although the admissions cycle will not be “pain-free”, she said, “most students are still in the driving seat” given that about 97 per cent of them have at least one offer going into results day.

But experts believe the more prudent approach to offer-making is likely to remain in place long term because of the rising numbers of 18-year-olds entering the system in the coming years, meaning that student choice is likely to be further squeezed.

Ms Marchant said more alternatives to the traditional three-year undergraduate degree needed to be developed in the face of such huge demand.

Asked about plans for admissions mooted by the candidates to be the next prime minister – including Liz Truss’ guarantee of Oxbridge interviews to straight-A* students – Ms Marchant said some of the aspirations were “really laudable” because they involved making some of the most selective institutions accessible for all, but she cautioned that changes should not have the knock-on effect of making the UK less internationally competitive.

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Reader's comments (1)

No evidence of large numbers, but anecdotal evidence of small numbers? The situation in Scotland, where local students don't pay tuition fees, with the consequence that their numbers are limited, might add to the picture.