UK universities need to show they “really care” about international students rather than treating them as “cash cows” bearing solutions to funding problems, the head of the British Council has warned.
Martin Davidson, British Council chief executive, spoke as the organisation launched its international education conference “Going global”, which is being held in London on 25 and 26 March.
Times Higher Education will be reporting from the conference, which draws together some of the leading figures from international higher education to discuss key issues such as overseas student security, university rankings and the role of the private sector.
In the UK, international students have become a vital source of income, a situation likely to be accentuated by government funding cuts. Universities are allowed to charge students from non-European Union countries higher tuition fees at undergraduate level. Fees are capped for domestic and other EU students, while there are also strict quotas limiting recruitment.
Mr Davidson said: “It would be seriously counter-productive and, in the long run, potentially self-defeating, for universities to focus on intensifying student recruitment drives as a knee-jerk reaction to current financial difficulties and state funding cuts.
“In this challenging economic time, it is more important than ever to take a balanced, strategic approach that builds on the firm foundations we have all worked so hard to lay…An approach to international working which includes student recruitment as part of a wider portfolio, taking in opportunities for joint course delivery, international branch campus development and increasing research collaboration, is ultimately one that will pay dividends.”
Mr Davidson said: “International students have more study options today than ever before, and in an internet-connected world, word quickly spreads when it appears that a university regards them as little more than ‘cash cows’. In today’s rapidly evolving marketplace, overseas governments will react against foreign universities that are clearly interested only in recruiting students from their country and giving nothing in return.”