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High uni fees: Overseas students face deterrent over coming to UK

Aug 24: The high level of fees charged by Scottish and other UK universities to overseas students damages the economy because it acts as a deterrent to larger numbers of learners coming to the country, according to new research.

A paper by the independent Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) highlighted the fact that overseas students bring enormous economic benefits to the country where they study, amounting to a net cash benefit of 18,000 a year.

HEPI argues that a lower fee for overseas students . . . or one subsidised by the British taxpayer . . . would encourage more to come to Britain, providing a significant boost to the economy.

The report comes at a time when Scottish universities are increasingly courting the international market with numbers from outside the EU more than doubling over the past six years, to 2606 last year.

These students pay full fees at a market rate . . . money which is in addition to that coming from the public purse to fund the education of UK students . . . which allows universities greater flexibility in the courses they teach and the research they pursue.

Recent figures show that overseas students contribute 360m each year to the Scottish economy and it has been shown that every three contribute one full-time equivalent job to the economy.

The HEPI paper argues that it would be better for the overall economy if they paid less in fees. "For non-EU students there is a problem as fees are set by universities in whose interest it is to maximise their income from fees, which they consequently set at a level that may deter large numbers of students from attending," it states. "From the perspective of the national interest a lower fee might be preferable if that would attract more students. A lower fee might be in the wider national interest but would be against the interest of individual universities.

"In the circumstances it would be in the national interest for the taxpayer to subsidise non-EU international students, as is the case with EU students, to maximise the number who attend our universities and provide the greatest benefit to the country as a whole, looking beyond the narrow interests of universities."

The paper points out that in Germany, where foreign students attend virtually free of charge, the government spends more than 1bn a year to support the cost of educating the 250,000 international students the country has, but is willing to do so because of the wider benefits these students bring. However, Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said the object of bringing overseas students to Scotland was not simply about the numbers arriving.

"Most universities would agree that you don't want to expand the proportion of overseas students indefinitely . . . it is not a matter of bringing in as many as possible, but getting those that will enhance the performance of the university, " said a spokesman.

"Most people agree that you don't want universities to develop the characteristic of an airport terminal where there is no cultural identity because it is just a fairly random mix of students from around the world." He said it would be better to use any subsidy to target countries where there were talented students who wanted to study in Scotland, but couldn't afford the fees.

HEPI warned the stream of overseas students could not be relied upon in the future. "Although numbers have been increasing impressively there should be no presumption that this will continue," it states. "As other countries begin to use English as the language of instruction . . . and as better information becomes available that enables students to compare the value they receive for their money, then it is quite possible that UK universities will begin to struggle to maintain numbers while charging the sort of prices that are charged at present." andrew denholm for the herald (glasgow)
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