UK universities’ eagerness to recruit more overseas students has resulted in a “lowering of standards” and “incompetent graduates sometimes”, according to a startling critique delivered by a representative of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London.
An International Higher Education Forum hosted by Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit on 19 March included a session titled “Seeing ourselves as others see us: global perceptions of UK higher education and the impact on your international strategy”.
But the hosts may not have expected one of the speakers, Faisal Abaalkhail, cultural attaché at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, to be quite so frank in his assessment.
He told the gathering in London that the “very, very positive perception of institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom has been changing; hopefully we will be working towards restoring whatever confidence is needed”, while noting, however, that the weaknesses related to only a “very small number of institutions – they are the exception”.
In the UK, higher education was “now branded as an education export”, Dr Abaalkhail said, and “wherever there is fast growth, there are a number of negative factors”.
There had been a “lowering of standards, poor student experience and satisfaction, and more emphasis on generating revenues”, he said, while again emphasising that “those are just the exceptions”.
Agencies sponsoring Saudi undergraduates “have noticed that there is this increasing number of students being admitted to degree programmes with insufficient amount of the English language”, he said.
Also, he added: “Academic standards in some cases are being overlooked to allow students to progress [on their courses], resulting in incompetent graduates sometimes.”
Dr Abaalkhail concluded: “Although the Saudi perception of UK higher education remains overall positive – very positive – the problems and difficulties…need to be addressed” to ensure a continued mutually beneficial partnership.
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