Are international students taking over UK universities? No – in fact, they’re propping them up | Jonathan Portes

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Their critics are right about one thing: universities are reliant on overseas money. But that need is generated by cuts

Jonathan Portes is professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London

Since 2010, the number of international students in the UK has increased by up to 70%, while entry to the most competitive universities has become more and more difficult. Meanwhile, the tuition fees paid by domestic students have fallen by more than a quarter in real terms, but for international students they’ve spiralled ever upward: they’re usually more than double the UK level.

It’s not hard to join the dots, and that’s what the Sunday Times did last weekend, claiming that international students were “buying their way in through secret routes”. This reminds me of the civil service joke that the best way to conceal the existence of a potentially embarrassing government policy is to publish it on the departmental website, since ascertaining the existence of “secret routes” into universities, or foundation courses as they are better known, doesn’t exactly require intrepid undercover journalism. These courses do have considerably lower entry requirements – they’re intended for both international students and domestic ones from disadvantaged backgrounds, to prepare them for the actual degree courses. The clue, obviously, is in the word “prepare”.

Jonathan Portes is professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and a former senior civil servant

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