Sam Leith Sam Leith

The shame of Britain’s ‘cash for courses’ universities

Credit: PA images

‘If you can take the lift, why go through the hardest route?’ a recruitment officer representing four Russell Group universities asked an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times. He boasted that ‘foundation’ course pathways onto undergraduate courses at Russell Group universities are much easier than the entry requirements for British applicants: overseas applicants ‘pay more money […] so they give leeway for international students […] It’s not something they want to tell you, but it’s the truth.’ 

And how. The paper reports that ‘overseas students wishing to study an economics degree using one of the pathways needed grades of CCC at Bristol; CCD at Durham; DDE at Exeter; DDE at Newcastle; and just a single D at Leeds. Yet the same universities’ A-level entry requirements for UK students is A*AA or AAA.’ Odd, isn’t it, when we’re making such a noise about immigration policy favouring only the cream of international talent that we seem to be applying the opposite metric when it comes to university admissions. I don’t think it makes you a little Englander to find it perverse that it’s much harder for British than foreign students to get a place in a British university.  

Britain’s higher education sector has, historically, been something to be proud of

These universities have been quick to pooh-pooh the Sunday Times’s reporting – which, as Mandy Rice-Davies might have said, ‘they would, wouldn’t they?’ They say that it can’t possibly be the case that foreign students are ‘squeezing out’ domestic applicants because, look, domestic admissions to Russell Group universities are at a record high and foreign applications have slumped. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re right about this. I would be surprised, though, if that trend was privately regarded by the average vice-chancellor with anything but horror. There’s a reason they spend millions pimping themselves abroad.  

If there’s a temporary shortage of foreign students, in other words, it’s not for want of trying. The slump in foreign students, particularly from the EU, is down to that awkwardness in 2016.

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