the future of international students – ii

I noticed that my blog is coming up on Google searches for ‘what do the cuts mean for international students’ and it reminded me that my rant about the proposed visa changes isn’t over. And alas, here we go.

So what do the cuts mean for international students? And what happens when funding cuts brought in at the same time as the visa changes? I think the short answer is this: rich international students will be fine, smart but poor international students will be screwed.

While international students are not directly hit by the proposed increase in fees, it is worth remembering that non-EU students already pay astronomical fees of up to £18,000 per annum (see Universities UK survey here). This is just fees: that is, before international students have clothed, fed, or housed themselves. The total estimated cost for an international student to spend a year in the UK can be up to around £28,000. Stick that figure into the currency converter for Indian rupee, Chinese yuan, South African rand or Egyptian pounds and gaze upon the resulting digits on your screen in silent horror. And that’s just for one year! A PhD takes four years, so do the maths and choke.

Unsurprisingly then, many international students rely on scholarships to get to the UK to study. With the cuts, scholarships are being cut. The existence of the British Chevening Scholarship is now in doubt (see this masterfully uninformative statement). This is on top of the demise of the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme for English universities, which was the first casualty of the economic crisis. Until 2009, if you managed to get the extremely competitive ORSAS, then your fees were reduced from the astronomical overseas rate to the very reasonable home-rate: so that’s a reduction of more than £10,000 a year. The added bonus of this award was that other scholarships were more likely to fund students who already got the ORSAS, because then their financial burden was also reduced: they only paid for the home rate fees plus a maintence allowance. So without the ORSAS, not only are the fees prohibitive, the knock-on effect of it means that other scholarship opportunities are reduced. Scholarships (ironically, like the endangered Chevening), which might have funded more students now find each scholar more expensive. So, less scholarships all around.

Without scholarships, for Britain, the international students it can attract will no longer be the brightest and the best – but the wealthiest. Those that will be able to come and study in the UK will be the children of elites and oligarchs, not the children of middle class aspirational families who have slogged their way through the national system and came out on top. Worse, the impact on would-be-students from poorer countries will be disproportionately severe: they generally have fewer funding sources such as home-country-funded scholarships, and rely on overseas or international schemes. By contrast, students from countries like USA will have better access to their own home-country-funds (for example, the Marshall, and the various other small but lucrative scholarships set up to facilitate scholarly exchanges of all kinds between the Ivy Leagues and Oxbridge.)

So, we can look forward to welcoming the offsprings of Putin, Medeyev, Kim, Hu, Zardari, Zuma … oh wait, too late! But of course, with emerging economies doing better than the UK, a new breed of millionaires’ spawn will be able to study in the UK. But that’s probably a good thing. After all, with the funding cuts, we need their money to fund – well – almost everything in higher education. Then again, if the proposed visa changes come through, even these cash cows – I mean, students – might be barred from the immaculate green lawns of the UK university.

Filed under: academic funding, daily politics, issues