UK sells abroad despite the cuts

May 31, 2002

British universities' ability to attract foreign students is not jeopardised by complaints of underfunding, education secretary Estelle Morris has told The THES .

Ms Morris was in Rome this week to meet Italian education minister Letizia Moratti.

Responding to a Universities UK survey suggesting that one in five higher education institutions will suffer a real-terms cut in funding next year, Ms Morris said: "Foreign students look at the reputation and standing of a university, and we score very highly. So I don't think there is a risk.

"However, I do understand that universities have had two decades of under-investment under the Tories... We've reversed that trend and begun to put more money in.

"I am very well aware of the argument that UK universities make for increased funding... We both recognise that further investment is needed, and we'll do that as the economy allows."

Ms Morris said the main priority in the harmonisation of European higher education was the recognition of degrees and other qualifications rather than the structure of degree courses.

She said the Bologna ideal of Europe-wide adoption of a three-plus-two-year degree system combined with internationally recognised credits has been moved to the back-burner.

"Recognition of qualifications and the adoption of a common structure for degrees are in two different time-frames, and recognition of qualifications has the priority," Ms Morris said.

The minister sees scope for many more international students at UK universities. "The universities are primarily there to support the UK market, and its up to each university to decide what the balance should be. The pressures will be partly financial - some universities earn a great deal from overseas students, and I applaud them for doing that.

"I know the prime minister wants universities to go out and seek customers from overseas. You can do that if you have an expanding university system, which we will have over the coming years."

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