Rich bias in foreign recruiting attacked

June 11, 2004

Britain's success in recruiting overseas students places too much emphasis on attracting the wealthy who can afford full fees at the expense of the poor who need more scholarship support, MPs heard this week.

Members of the House of Commons' education and skills committee said that a recent British Council report, which calls for more money to market UK higher education abroad, was a "missed opportunity" to press the government for more international student scholarships.

The council's Vision 2020 report forecasts potentially huge growth in the global demand for UK higher and further education courses.

But it says that the British Council may need double its present £5 million-a-year marketing budget to protect the UK's market position from increasingly aggressive competition.

David Green, director-general of the British Council, told the committee that the Prime Ministers' initiative to attract more overseas students was an "unsung success story" that had helped bring about £10 billion to the UK economy.

Countries such as Australia were seeking a greater share of this rapidly growing market, investing £44 million over three years in marketing and scholarships, he said.

But Valerie Davey, Labour member for Bristol West, suggested that there was too much emphasis on attracting well-off students able to afford fees of up to £15,000 a year. She asked whether the Government should provide more scholarships for international students from poor countries.

She said: "Isn't this a missed opportunity to do that? If education is just a product to be sold to those who can afford it, then I do not think that is what we should be about."

The MPs, who took evidence from British Council officials on Monday as part of a short inquiry into international education, also expressed concern that there might not be enough institutions to accommodate up to 870,000 overseas students that the report predicts could flood into the UK by 2020.

Barry Sheerman, the committee chairman, asked: "Surely if the home market is growing as well, the infrastructure will not be able to cope?"

Neil Kemp, the British Council's marketing director, said feedback from institutions suggested they could cope with the extra numbers forecast for the next five years, "but we cannot predict what, will happen in ten or 15 years time", he added.

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