Win your international share

Mark Ferguson reviews the latest developments in international UK higher education institute funding and the challenges ahead

While UK HEIs receive no public funding for their international student teaching or other overseas activities, and student visa regulations are emerging as a significant hurdle to recruitment, the market continues to prove important.

First, the potential bad news as underlined by new immigration minister James Brokenshire, who used his first speech in post to insist that students should continue to be counted as immigrants, and that some universities will find it difficult to keep their student visa licences.

Under pressure on immigration figures indicating a net migration increase of 30% to 212,000 in the year to September, versus a Conservative pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by 2015, he has expressed ‘considerable concerns’ regarding some educational institutions.

Speaking at an event in March, Mr. Brokenshire said: “Currently, the threshold at which education institutions lose their right to sponsor overseas students is a refusal rate of 20%. That is the equivalent of one in five of the people HEIs are prepared to offer places to being refused by the Home Office because they cannot demonstrate that they are genuine students.

He stated that existing rules were extremely generous, and added: “The vast majority of education institutions are nowhere near that refusal rate. But some are, which gives rise to considerable concerns about those institutions and their approach. The trusted status given to universities and colleges who want to attract foreign students isn’t an automatic right, and it is one that carries responsibilities.”

It is against this backdrop, and a recent decline in the number of UK students taking postgraduate and part-time courses, that the UK university sector cautiously monitors developments while implementing fresh strategies aimed at benefitting from internationalisation.

They further argue that overseas recruitment represents not only a significant source of revenue, it also makes it possible for UK students to live and work with people and benefit from a variety of countries and cultures. This collaborative approach in turn results in growing international networks, strategic partnerships and joint research – all of which enhances learning and delivers solutions to a variety of global problems.

The expanding market for international student share is, naturally, a global one, and coming to the UK to study is not always the cheapest option. At a practical level, students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) are expected to pay the full cost of their tuition fees, which can range from £6,500 for arts courses, to over £29,000 for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

Once accommodation and other living costs are added in, overseas study in the UK can begin to look very expensive. That said, having a UK university on one’s CV offers the benefit of a known commodity with an enviable academic reputation – all of which acts as solid credentials for graduates seeking employment or further study in a myriad of potential sectors across the world.

So what are some of the key, practical funding issues and tips that recruiters are highlighting to their international prospects as an incentive to make the UK stand apart from the rest of the world?

At the top of the list are tips such as carefully studying universities’ individual departmental websites for any unique funding offers, applying early and carefully checking important deadlines, and exploring specialist opportunities for scholarships and other financial support initiatives.

While there are some sources of funding available in the UK, international students are first encouraged to investigate what might be available in their own country, sometimes through regional or national government initiatives. They should also contact their closest British Council office.

Leading schemes for international postgraduates include the British Chevening Scholarships. Funded by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, over 30,000 scholarships have been awarded to international students at UK universities in the last 26 years, but competition is intense.

As with all funding initiatives, prospective students should be encouraged to apply early, particularly for awards made by HEIs themselves. Funding can include travel costs to and from the UK, tuition fees and living expenses, while application deadlines are often in April and May for the following academic year.

International in action

As part of their recruitment drives, it pays for leading universities to distinguish and raise the profile of their international credentials, relationships and activity.

De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester is one such institution, arranging a welcome week for international students ahead of Freshers’ week each September and providing a host of activities to help international students make friends and get their bearings on campus and in the UK.

The university recently opened its Leicester, UK-based Confucius Institute, promoting Chinese language and culture. The initiative was supported by one of China’s leading education institutions, the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB), which is working in partnership with DMU to promote world-class teaching and research. Hong Kong-based international business conglomerate Sunwah Group is another partner making a significant contribution.

The Confucius Institute Headquarters, in Beijing, has made a financial contribution towards the set-up of the DMU institute and has also donated 3,000 books to aid study and research. The partnership was formed thanks to the work of DMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Dominic Shellard, with the help of the University’s Strategic
and International Partnerships department, led by its director James Gardner, department head Esther Dudley and Dahai Gao.

Professor Shellard commented: “You ignore the rapid growth of the Chinese economy at your peril. By working with the Confucius Institute Headquarters and USTB we are seizing opportunities to boost teaching and research, add to the overall student experience at DMU and create exciting job opportunities for our graduates.”

Birmingham City University is another high-profile HEI taking pride in showcasing its strengthening international talent and industry links, most recently participating in a high-tech festival in India.

The University played a significant role in the recent Shaastra annual intercollegiate technical festival held in the city of Chennai from 3–7 January 2014. Each year the event attracts the elite of India’s high tech and the latest edition was hosted by IIT Madras, one of the leading institutions in the field of Engineering and Technology in India.

As a sponsor of the event, Birmingham City University joined some of the most important international education agencies across the world, including Education USA, Campus France, NUFIC Holland and the German International Education Service – DAAD.

Birmingham City University has also just opened an office in New Delhi to support the international recruitment of prospective students, as well as the development of new strategic partnerships in the country.

The University of Leicester, which possesses a strong track record on international relations and activity has interestingly seen its own Students’ Union initiate a call on vice-chancellors and UK principals to agree to a fixed rate for international fees, protecting students from unanticipated course charges.

Outlining the reasoning behind its campaign, the Students’ Union states: “Each year up to 175,000 international students in our campuses find their fees increase, often without notice, reason or support.

“Many international students don’t know when they apply that this will happen, and are told during their degree that the total cost has gone up by an amount with often no link to inflation or costs.

“This is impossible for them to plan or budget for and often causes hardship from a group of students with little or no access to financial support.”

A similar initiative launched by the University of Edinburgh’s University Students’ Association also reportedly found that some international students were unable to travel home to see their families or afford course resources when fees rose unexpectedly.

Cranfield University, meanwhile, which teaches exclusively at postgraduate level and attracts around 750 doctoral and 3,600 master’s students from 100 different countries, many of whom study while still in full-time employment, anticipates the challenges of internationalisation more than most.

While its MBA and MSc programmes are taught at Cranfield’s UK campus, tailored in-company programmes are taught all over the world, benefitting a further 20,000 students on professional development courses, many of whom are funded by their employers.

On the subject of funding, Cranfield University refers to the Postgraduate Support Scheme, announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in December, under which 40 universities will share £25m to develop ways to support taught postgraduate provision.

Cranfield is using its element to offer affordable loans to master’s students in an attempt to attract those who may be put off PG study by financial constraints. The Cranfield Postgraduate Loan Scheme is described as ensuring that postgraduate education “doesn’t just become an opportunity for the privileged”.

Up to 200 places are available over the two-year pilot which, if successful, will help around 1,000 students over the next 10 years.

During its two-year pilot phase the University says it is seeking industrial partners in STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) to make one-off donations to sustain and grow the scheme, helping their sectors and ‘UK Plc’ fill the STEM skills gap.

Sir Peter Gregson, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, explained: “Progression into taught postgraduate study greatly improves job prospects. Currently, fewer than 10% of graduates in the UK continue onto engineering and technology master’s degrees, so Cranfield is proud to launch this scheme to help candidates with potential, but without funding, to improve their future careers.





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