Universities should use overseas student fees to support more scholarships and hardship funds for foreign rather than home undergraduates, a conference heard this week, writes Tony Tysome.
About a third of institutions lack an overseas student's bursary or hardship fund or policy, according to Ukcosa, the council for international education.
The council, which held its annual conference at the University of Surrey this week, warned that institutions that significantly boost their income through overseas student fees but fail to provide financial support stand to lose ground in an increasingly competitive international market.
Delegates heard that universities view the full-cost tuition fees paid by overseas students as a source of subsidy for poor home undergraduates and for undergraduate teaching generally.
Clive Saville, Ukcosa's chief executive, said: "Institutions have hardship funds for home students, but we are finding that there is an enormous variety in their willingness to recognise that there can be genuine hardship among international students. There is a need to have a policy to deal with that.
"Institutions should not be taken by surprise every time an international student runs out of money. They can run into financial problems for all kinds of reasons, from a death in their family to an earthquake or other disaster at home."
Ukcosa is calling for the value of government-backed scholarships to be increased in line with home students' PhD stipends.