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UK stakeholders lambast press coverage of international admissions

The implication that British A-level students are being discriminated against in place of international students, as written in an article by the Sunday Times last weekend, has been blasted by education stakeholders, who have called the coverage “damaging” and “misleading”.

The University of Sheffield's (pictured), vice-chancellor Keith Burnett, said the suggestion that international students in the UK are responsible for a decrease in UK students is incorrect and damaging. Photo: wikicommons/Todo hzk.

UK full-time first degree students have increased by 170,860 between 2008/09 and 2015/16

The article, published by the UK national newspaper, argues that British pupils are being turned away from top universities in favour of foreign students, many of whom use third party pathway providers to gain entry into these institutions if their qualifications fall short of what is required for direct admission.

HESA data shows that the number of total UK undergraduate students has dropped, as the article suggests, from 1.67 million to 1.51 million between 2008/09 and 2015/16.

“They provide a pathway for international students to study at British universities”

However, the decline in this segment is attributed to the ‘total other undergraduate degree students’ (which excludes bachelor’s degrees), and part-time first degree students. Using these statistics, as opposed to the number of UK full-time first degree students, has garnered a range of criticism from education stakeholders who say they paint a very different picture.

The number of UK full-time first degree students has increased by 170,860 in the period between 2008/09 and 2015/16, counting towards the overall increase of 144,380 first degree undergraduate students.

Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said the implication that international students are taking the place of UK students is “incorrect and damaging”.

The University of Sheffield saw an increase of 1,000 full-time UK first degree students in the space of 10 years, to 5,000 by 2016, he said.

Burnett added that international students bring many benefits to the university, including sustaining expensive courses and high-tech laboratories – “facilities which also benefit UK students”.

London Economics’ Education and Labour markets team on Twitter pointed out that the article implies it’s “full time young UGs in decline – whereas its decimation of PT-ers is real reason”.

Universities UK, the representative body of the country’s universities sector, said in a blog post the data is “misleading”.

The decline in part-time and short course undergraduate students has been “falling for some time, for a number of complex reasons”, the post reads, including the recession, and changes to entry requirements for nursing.

“The removal of funding for students taking qualifications equivalent or lower to ones they already have”, and “changes to undergraduate funding in England, which, as well as increasing fees, initially left part-time students without access to maintenance funding”, also contributed to the decline, the post said.

A spokesperson from the University of Warwick told The PIE News that there is “no cap on student numbers and therefore reason to prefer any one country over any other”.

With the inclusion of students on part-time, short, credit-bearing courses alongside full-time undergraduate degrees, the spokesperson noted, in comparison to the full-time degrees, this group “has been contracting for some time, falling by several thousand at Warwick over the period they examined”.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times article also points out that third party pathway providers are recruiting international students with lower entry requirements.

A spokesperson for Study Group emphasised that its courses are “rigorous and independently quality assured”.

“Just ridiculous to say a foundation programme for international students is discriminatory”

“They provide a pathway for international students to study at British universities, subject to the entry requirements that universities set,” they told The PIE News.

“We are proud of our record of connecting Britain’s world class universities with the best students from around the world.”

The comparison between the entry requirements for domestic students and international students entering through pathway programs was also disparaged.

“Just ridiculous to say a foundation programme for international students is discriminatory,” wrote Alasdair Smith, former VC at the University of Sussex, on Twitter. “Doesn’t take away places from home students.”

And Alex Proudfoot, chief executive of Independent HE, tweeted “2 years of A levels includes min 3 subjects + extracurricular. Intensive single subject F Year is not a cheat, it’s focused.”

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