Some leading universities are using recruitment agents to offer places to overseas students with significantly lower grades than UK applicants, it was reported on Saturday.
An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times found that 15 Russell Group universities offered one-year “pathway” courses, or foundation programmes, which the newspaper said provided privileged access to competitive degree courses.
It comes after The Telegraph revealed last year that universities were sharply increasing the proportion of international students – who pay much higher fees – in a “desperate scramble” to keep up funding levels.
According to The Sunday Times, foreign students could get onto competitive degree courses with just C grades at GCSE via the one-year courses, while domestic students must have A or A* grades at A-level.
Recruitment officials acting for some Russell Group universities were secretly filmed discussing the “back door” routes offered to international students, with one stating: “If you can take the lift, why go through the hardest route?”
The official is reported to have added: “International [students] pay more money, and the [universities] will receive almost double, so they give leeway for international students.” He claimed: “It’s not something they want to tell you, but it’s the truth.”
In some respects, the Universities cannot be blamed for their rush to sign up foreign students as they pay, on average, about £25000 a year in fees compared to the capped fees of £9250 they receive from a domestic student every year. Still, this rush is disadvantageous to UK students not just because they require higher standards to access the same courses but because it limits the number of spaces available to them in a system that sees many courses heavily oversubscribed every year.
The winners of this scheme are not just the foreign students who get in on a lower standard but the people who run the Universities. In the UK, as the number of high-fee-paying foreign students has expanded, so has the pay of university chancellors and vice-chancellors, with many chancellors taking home over £250000 a year and much more.
The system of funding universities needs major reform, though this burden cannot be placed too heavily on the shoulders of the students with massively increased fees. Education is vital to the future of our Nation, significantly, as technology is advancing at such a fast pace. The government needs to offer better funding packages to the higher education sector and involve the private sector at a higher level with specific courses and research funding. In the cash-strapped world we live in now, there are no easy answers when so many sectors are screaming out for funding, but higher education is vital to our future.
We must keep our universities from falling behind on a global level regarding research and create high-quality graduates that will allow our Nation to compete worldwide. Domestic talent must be encouraged and not burdened with excessive debt when they leave higher education. We need more funded places for research degrees that will allow the best talent to flourish here and contribute to our future. We also need to encourage more graduates to enter the start-up world and use their excellent educations to build companies that can compete worldwide.
Education is vital to our future, and the government needs to take a hard look and make tough decisions not just about funding but standards and curriculum at all levels of the education system.’