International routes under attack: UK sector reacts

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Posted on March 19, 2024


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UK sector organizations and stakeholders are addressing allegations in the mainstream media that foreign students are “squeezing out” local students from universities, as one magazine attacked international route programs for the second time this year.

In a direct response to the most recent Sunday Times story criticizing education brokers and route providers, Vivienne Stern MBE, CEO of Universities UK, stated, “International students do not reduce the number of places available to home students.”

It asserted that domestic students are being unfairly forced out of the system and that they provide foreign students with “a back door” to UK universities.

The story detailed how a whistleblower, an ex-Study Group employee who reportedly held a prominent position in the past, utilized the platform to warn how UK institutions’ ambition to “rake in cash” from abroad students paying higher tuition fees is negatively affecting young people.

“The drive for quality is being overridden by profit motive,” stated the ex-employee, who wished to remain anonymous.

“The nature of the business is to bring in the international students, pile them high, and they will always find some sort of accommodation as long as they have the money,” he went on.

The Sunday Times took another jab at the prerequisites for international gateway programs, this time focusing on those set by Study Group, alleging that they are intentionally kept low to entice as many foreign students as possible.

The Sunday Times reported that the article purports to have obtained confidential documents in which Study Group allegedly identified different profiles of international students to recruit. These profiles included the “socialite,” a student who is “less cost-conscious” and will have achieved only “medium” grades, and the “immigrant,” a term used to describe someone looking to “relocate out of India” and who will have achieved only “medium” or “low” grades.

Leaked meeting minutes, internal presentations, and marketing materials were cited by the magazine as supporting evidence for the former employee’s allegations.

Study Group CEO Ian Crichton said in a statement that the company “absolutely refutes defamatory statements” against its “long-standing work to recruit and teach international students in preparation for university level study” that was published in response to the news report.

The Independent Press Standards Organization will receive a formal complaint from Study Group on the story. According to Study Group, the assertions that it only admits students based on their financial situation are “untrue” and were released without giving Study Group a chance to comment.

Before the story was published, the corporation told the Sunday Times, according to Crichton, “universities themselves always make the decision to admit well-prepared students to degree level study.”

He emphasized how instruction is meticulously coordinated with university partners, and he emphasized Study Group’s “strict educational standards” across the application and admission processes to its International Study Centers.

The report also explained how pathway providers “make their millions”—roughly 15% of the first-year tuition costs for university-bound students who follow their paths, in addition to the course tuition fees they charge.

The report also explained how pathway providers “make their millions”; they get paid tuition fees for their courses in addition to 15% of the first-year tuition for students who advance to university via their paths.

The highest-earning director received £500,000 in compensation in 2022, above the salary of the majority of vice-chancellors at universities, according to the firm’s accounts, which reveal £119 million in British revenue.

Stakeholders are again having to defend international route programs and the status of foreign students in the UK higher education system for the second time in as many months.

“The number of spots for domestic students has increased, even though the number of international students at our universities has increased,” stated Stern.

“In fact, universities need other sources of income to ensure that they can continue to increase home places, as they lose money teaching home students throughout the UK.”

A representative of the Russell Group also addressed the assertions made in the article. “Our universities guarantee that every student, regardless of their route to university, is at a suitable level to study, both upon admission and during their program.”

They emphasized that the minimum entrance requirements for each degree program offered by Russell Group universities are the same for all students, domestic and international.

The statement said, “Entry into a degree course is not guaranteed by completion of an International Foundation program; there are no shortcuts to admission.”

They do not ensure admission to a full degree program. Stern went on to say that even after a year of intense study, 20–25% of students do not advance from the pathway program onto a full undergraduate program at the partner university. International students on pathway courses must meet the academic standards required to pass the course, and not all students manage this.

In the Russell Group institutions that offer these programs, the progression rate of foreign students from a foundation year program to a degree level is normally about 70%.

The Sunday Times used an undercover reporter earlier this year to compete for access to “secret” pathway programs by dressing like students’ parents. As a result, UUK commissioned the QAA to conduct an external review of International Foundation Programs and International Year One Programs, including their admission requirements.

Stern stated, “This work is underway and will report in the coming months,” emphasizing how crucial it is to preserve the public’s trust in the impartiality and openness of the admissions process. The Russell Group concurs, saying they are in favor of more admissions process openness.