If, like many others, you are appalled at the government’s new cap on tuition fees for UK students, you should be grateful that you haven’t just landed at Heathrow, ready for the start of the new academic year as an international student. That 9,000, payable annually, isn’t exactly loose change – to put it mildly – but if you were making your way from the airport to study humanities at UCL, you should have stashed away 14,000 for tuition fees for this year alone. If you’re planning on taking a science course there, you ought to have 16,250 in your back pocket to pay for it, this year at least… and if you’d arrived here to take a medical course at UCL, you’d better have 27,500 in your backpack to cover course fees for the first year alone.
Now London isn’t exactly renowned for the low cost of any kind of accommodation, so perhaps our international student might have looked elsewhere for a university course – preferably near an airport, and definitely with cheaper accommodation than he’d find in the nation’s capital. Bristol would suit the bill, with its own airport and its own university… plus student accommodation that verges on the affordable, as are some of the courses at the university there: choosing to study humanities at the University of Bristol instead of at UCL would save our student 250 on tuition fees. But as for a science course, our student would be paying more for it at Bristol than in London: just 500, which, in terms of London of accommodation prices wouldn’t keep a roof overhead for very long. However, Bristol prices are much steeper when it comes to a medical course – higher than even those charged by UCL. They cost another 3,500 a year, bringing the annual tuition bill to a heartstopping 31,000.
That’s just for the average international university student. For international postgraduate students, though, things can be very different indeed. That’s because universities are free to charge them up to double the price a British national would pay for a postgraduate course. Foreign students, you see, are very big business indeed, whether they come here to study humanities, science or medicine. So the more of them arriving on these shores, the better off universities – and the country as a whole – will be, financially speaking. In 2010, the number of international higher education students from outside the UK rose 6.2% above the previous year’s total, to 298,110. Many of those additional students came from China and India. The number of Chinese students rose 43% in two years to 2011, up to 67,235. The number of Indian students rose to 39,090, a 14.7% increase. And in that same period, the number of Saudi Arabian students nearly doubled, to 10,270.
It should come as no surprise that so many international students choose to come to Britain for their studies. After the United States, the UK is the second most popular destination for university studies, and, in 2009 British universities claimed nearly 10% of the global education market share. According to the universities’ lobbying group, 2009’s earnings of 7.9 billion could double by the year 2025. But there could be problems ahead: the government is contemplating changing the UK visa system. If that happens, it’s going to more difficult for international students to come here, possibly making them decide to go elsewhere for their studies, takeing their money with them. And this, says Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol and President of Universities UK, could cause a loss of 5-7 million each year for every British university.
But then again, the cost of education here in the UK can be a double-edged sword: perhaps because of the increase in tuition fees, an increasing number of British students who would otherwise have chosen to attend the university of their choice on these shores have decided to go elsewhere instead. For example, the number of Britons welcomed at American universities grew by 6% between 2007 and 2011, to a record total of 8,947. And with other countries around the world becoming much more proactive in their international student recruitment programmes, it just goes to show that it’s not just universities here in the UK that look at foreign students and see pound signs.
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