UK universities to review admissions of international students

Vice-chancellors of British universities, represented by Universities UK, have decided to conduct a comprehensive review of international student admissions. This initiative comes in response to recent controversies surrounding recruitment practices, including allegations that some universities lowered entry standards for international students who pay higher tuition fees. The reviews will encompass the use of recruitment agents, international foundation programs, and the existing code of practice governing admissions.

The move follows accusations of universities compromising entry standards for international students, who contribute significantly to funding through higher tuition fees. Reports highlighted instances where staff were urged to be more lenient in admitting students with lower grades, and allegations that agents falsely claimed students with poor grades could easily gain entry via international foundation courses.

In response to these concerns, the University of York instructed staff to exhibit greater flexibility in admitting international students with grades below expectations. Investigations by the media revealed agents associated with universities, such as Durham and Exeter, asserting that international students with subpar grades could gain admission through international foundation courses.

Universities UK aims to swiftly review international foundation courses, comparing entry requirements for international students with those for their UK counterparts. The review will also address concerns related to the use of recruitment agents, with the intention of enhancing resilience and identifying potential bad practices.

Vice-chancellors have committed to collaborating with the government in this review process. Additionally, updates to the admissions code of practice are planned to explicitly state its applicability to international students. Currently promising “fairness and transparency,” the code emphasizes universities’ commitment to using available evidence to make informed decisions on applicants’ potential to succeed.

Former universities minister David Willetts attributed the increased reliance on overseas student income to the government’s freeze on tuition fees since 2016. He suggested that properly funding domestic higher education could help alleviate this pressure.

A spokesperson from the Russell Group, representing leading research universities, clarified that international students are not displacing domestic students, citing Ucas data showing a faster increase in domestic student numbers at Russell Group universities compared to international student numbers.

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