Universities are operating a two-tier clearing system by accepting applications from high-paying foreign students while closing courses to British candidates, it emerged last night.
Research by the Telegraph found that overseas students can currently choose from 15 per cent more degree courses at British universities than applicants from the UK.
Some leading institutions have stopped accepting applications from home students altogether while allowing those from abroad to take their pick from hundreds of different disciplines such as law, engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and geography.
Under Government rules, universities can take unlimited numbers of self-funding foreign students but state-subsidised places for UK undergraduates are capped.
Students from outside Europe can be charged far higher fees – with medical degrees costing up to £35,000-a-year – but British students pay a maximum of £9,000.
Ministers insist that universities actually have far more freedom to recruit British students than they did under Labour.
This includes taking unlimited numbers of students with good A-levels – an A and two Bs or better – and more flexibility to over-recruit without incurring fines.
But critics have warned that foreign students are being used as “cash cows” to boost universities’ income during the economic downturn.
The Telegraph analysed courses advertised by more than 160 institutions through the traditional clearing system operated by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas). It matches students with spare places.
Just over two weeks after the publication of A-levels, it emerged that 19,966 courses were still available for overseas students at universities and higher education colleges across the UK. This compared with 17,398 for British students.
Figures show that 40 institutions had more courses for foreign students than those from Britain.
Bath Spa was advertising 222 courses for overseas students compared with four for UK students, while Chester had 305 for those from abroad against 258 for UK applicants. At Hertfordshire, 531 degree courses were accepting applications from foreign students compared with 351 for British candidates, while there were also wide differences at Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham.
Manchester University had 349 courses available for students from overseas despite closing the clearing process for British students.
Universities pointed out that places for foreign students were in addition to – rather than instead of – those set aside for British undergraduates.
A spokesman for the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, insisted foreign students brought “much to UK academia and to the country as a whole”, but added: “They should be encouraged to study over here, never simply because they have to pay more for the privilege. The government needs to look careful at what its policies have meant for students both at home and from abroad and our universities.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “International students do not displace home students. Places for UK and EU students with grades below ABB are capped by government and universities can only recruit these students up to the agreed number.
“Recruitment of international students operates entirely outside these domestic limits.
“Student numbers may fluctuate from year to year depending on demand and also capacity. Universities aim to give their students the best possible experience and the numbers they recruit are determined by the availability of study space, lecture rooms and accommodation, among other factors.
“It is important to note that international students enrich the university experience of home students, both culturally and academically.”
Source: Education News