International student officers from Britain’s universities fear the country will lose out on the lucrative overseas student market as European students turn to rival institutions in Australia, the US, China and India.
Even stay-at-home British students may venture abroad in search of cheaper alternatives in the event of a three-fold increase in the cap on tuition fees proposed by the coalition government and deep cuts to the teaching budget.
Mina Kasherova, international students’ officer at Sheffield University, on sabbatical after graduating in journalism, said there was a general feeling among her colleagues across the country that it would be more affordable to study in Europe.
“We are concerned about Britain’s reputation at the international level as it might drop in relation to Australia and the US. China is getting up to speed – it is producing packages of education at competitive prices.”
Kasherova, from Bulgaria, pointed out that international students have to pay out a lot in accommodation and living costs, apart from fees, to study in England.
“They could find a better deal elsewhere.”
British students, known for their reluctance to leave these shores, could be lured across the Channel, she thought.
Christina Yan Zhang, international students’ officer for the National Union of Students, said the UK had to compete with an increasing number of EU countries that now offered degree courses taught in English and the rise of India and China as new destinations for overseas study meant that UK universities were already less attractive to EU students.
“Many other EU countries still offer free education to their students, as well as to students from other EU countries, which weakens the position of UK universities and means many students who would have come to the UK will choose more affordable options elsewhere.”
She thought that more UK students might try to find places overseas, given that 200,000 qualified students missed out on a university place this year. “Cuts to higher education and massive tuition fees could force the best students, and also lecturers, to look for better options abroad.”
Andy Patton, international students’ officer at Swansea University Students’ Union, said: “There is certainly a growing concern about the feasibility of the UK’s higher education system in future years among students, with many at undergraduate level feeling the increase in fees will prevent them from continuing on to postgraduate study.”
He added that several EU students in particular confirmed that they would definitely have to look elsewhere on the European continent, as proposed £9,000 (US$14,360) a year fees would be completely unaffordable.
Nina Olenocinova, from Slovakia, studying for an MA in translation, said: “I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I would have to just try and find work.”
Patton added: “In a climate where graduate unemployment is high, the last thing we need is to force students who want to add to their prospects and continue their study, into a job market that is not ready for them.”