BRITISH UNIVERSITIES should have as their main purpose the higher education of British students. Yet, in effect, the current strategy is to recruit overseas students and limit access by British students through the imposition of greatly increased fees. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the strategy is working. The total number of students fell by 0.2 per cent from 2010/11 to 2011/12. But the number of overseas students rose by 1.6 per cent in this one year, and the overall decrease was entirely due to lower numbers of students from Britain.
Overseas students are concentrated in postgraduate studies. They made up 13 per cent of all first degree students, 46 per cent of all taught postgraduates, 48 per cent of full-time research degree students and 41 per cent of all research postgraduates.
Foreign students have already reached a majority in some institutions: 67 per cent of students at the London School of Economics are from overseas, 41 per cent at the University of the Arts London, Birmingham University and Imperial College, and 39 per cent at City University and University College London. 32 per cent of engineering and technology students are from overseas and 36 per cent of business and administration students. We are educating our competitors. The biggest senders are China 78,715, India 29,900, Nigeria 17,620 and the USA 16,335.
Tuition fees are primarily a way to control access, to deter British youngsters, not a way to fund higher education. Higher education institutions now tout for foreign students in a new and enervating export drive. Soon some universities will exist only to educate the offspring of a foreign ruling class.
Access to higher education is being further limited among British entrants to higher education. In schools where pupils achieved an average of 801-850 A-level points each (900 is equivalent to three A grades), 45 per cent of private school pupils went on to the most selective universities, but only 26 per cent of comprehensive school pupils.
Just five schools in Britain sent more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge over three years than nearly 2,000 others combined. Four private schools – Eton College (fees £32,067 a year), Westminster School (fees £31,350 a year), St Paul’s School for boys (fees £29,466 a year) and St Paul’s Girls’ School (fees £20,160 a year) – and state-funded Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, together sent 946 pupils to Oxford and Cambridge between 2007 and 2009. By contrast, 2,000 other schools sent a total of 927 students.
We should prioritise the recruitment of home students. This would encourage more of our young people to develop their talents to the utmost, and provide Britain with the educated young people we will need for our future. ■