UK universities stand to lose millions of pounds because they will no longer be able to charge full-cost tuition fees to students from the ten countries joining the European Union this Saturday.
Institutions earn about £ million from 3,400 undergraduates from the ten EU accession states at UK universities, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
These students are charged as non-EU students and pay fees of between Pounds 7,000 and £8,000 a year. But after their countries join the EU they will have to be charged the same as UK students, who pay a maximum of £1,125 a year.
Calculations by The Times Higher , based on the Hesa figures, show that the net loss to universities could be more than £23 million a year.
This is a small proportion of the total overseas student market, which, according to Hesa, was worth a total of £1 billion in 2002-03, a 24 per cent increase on the year before.
But a forthcoming report from the Sutton Trust will show how dependent on overseas income UK universities have become.
The number of non-EU students has grown by almost 50 per cent over the past six years compared with an increase in home undergraduates of 15 per cent, according to the Sutton Trust. The number of undergraduates from elsewhere in the EU has declined.
The figures also reveal a rapid increase in the number of foreign postgraduate students, who pay full fees. Their number has increased by 71 per cent - four times the rate of growth in home postgraduate numbers in the past six years.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, a body dedicated to improving access for poor UK students, said: "These figures show that full-fee paying overseas students are increasingly an important source of income for cash-strapped UK universities."
The total number of overseas students stood at 184,685 in 2002-03, according to Hesa, up by 32,000 on the year before.
Student applications from the accession countries constitute a relatively small part of total overseas demand for UK higher education, according to the latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Only Cyprus is home to significant numbers of people applying for a place at UK universities, according to Ucas. Fewer than 600 people applied from each of the accession countries: Malta and the former communist states of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia.
Overall, the rise in numbers of applications to UK universities is slowing.
The number who applied by March 24 is up 3.1 per cent on January 15 to 406,000. This compares with an increase of 3.5 per cent recorded on January 15.
The number applying from within the UK is up 1.7 per cent to 356,630 on January, compared with a 2.2 per cent increase recorded earlier in the year.
There was a near 50 per cent rise in the number of people applying to study full-time foundation degrees this year. But absolute numbers remained small, up from about 8,100 last year to just over 12,000 this year.
- University and college heads have welcomed a Home Office crackdown on sham institutions that are providing entry to the UK for bogus students.
David Blunkett, the home secretary, last week announced a package of tough measures, including an accreditation scheme for institutions. This follows growing concern over reports that some non-accredited private colleges are simply a front for illegal immigration, taking cash in exchange for letters offering places on phoney courses.
Universities UK and the British Council welcomed the measures.