UK international fees ‘not expected to change’ despite pandemic

But applicants for this autumn may find themselves in a ‘buyer’s market’ even at the most selective universities, THE student webinar hears

May 27, 2020
Arrivals, departures, Brexit, immigration
Source: iStock

Universities in the UK are not expected to lower tuition fees for international students starting courses this year because of the costs involved in keeping campuses safe and the move to blended learning, a Times Higher Education webinar has heard.

However, those still planning to apply to universities may find that they are competing against a smaller pool of applicants for a place, even at the most selective institutions.

The International Student Seminar, hosted by THE in association with SI-UK, heard that despite large classes such as lectures still being online in the autumn at some universities, it was not expected that fees would change.

Chris Skidmore, who was universities minister in the UK government until February this year, said that although he could not speak for decisions by individual universities, “maintaining quality is something that all our institution leaders are absolutely determined to do, and with that does come the necessary investment…so I wouldn’t expect a reduction in fees”.

He added that the debate over domestic student fees over the past decade in the UK had shown that a major cut in fee levels “would just decimate…and destabilise the sector, and then we simply wouldn’t have the institutions in place to be able to deliver what is a fantastic, life-changing opportunity for individuals”.

Max Lu, vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, said the investment that institutions were putting into ensuring that campuses were safe this autumn, and that course quality was maintained with a mixed model of online and face-to-face teaching, also had a bearing.

“The cost is going to be higher, not lower, and the quality is going to be maintained, if not improved,” he said.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, also said that UK universities would be looking to “maintain their standards” in terms of admissions as “there is no point in recruiting a student who then isn’t able to successfully complete a course”.

However, she added, given that some international students may still decide to defer decisions to study in the UK this year, it could mean those applying for “a really highly selective institution” may find themselves “in a smaller pool” of applicants.

Meanwhile, Guy Doughty, UK director at SI-UK, which advises international students looking to study in the UK, said the next few weeks would be “quite vital” in determining how international recruitment pans out this year.

He said he was still “quite optimistic” that numbers could hold up, but universities needed to start giving more “certainty” in the coming weeks about their plans for the autumn.

“I think that is one thing that is very important: that we get more and more information out from the universities about what their intention is” in terms of course start dates and modes of learning.

“We notice that…students are very committed to universities keeping as close to the traditional, physical face-to-face model as is possible,” he added.

Mr Doughty also said the picture emerging on recruitment before the pandemic suggested that the reintroduction of the UK’s two-year post-study work visa was making a “tremendous difference” to demand.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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