All entries for Saturday 11 February 2006

February 11, 2006

UK Universities must change or face international student decline

As I have argued in my previous article, top-up fees are the best idea for a long time in the UK higher education system. I have stressed that a university education is an investment and that universities must be allowed to charge fees so as to increase their competitiveness.

Now I know most of you do not agree with me, but the truth is that British universities are in desperate need of finances. As of now one of their greatest source of income is the international student (outside of the EU). A nice article on how international students are financially important is the following one

Universities prefer hiring international students because we pay a hell of a lot more, I pay almost 9000 pounds and students in engineering and WBS pay more than 11,000 just for tuition alone. Like it or not, we are one of the best source of income the universities can get because the income gotten from international students is not subject to the restrictions imposed from the money given by the government bodies. Together international students pay 4,000,000,000 pounds in tuition fees in the UK and that is a LOT of money. The sad part of it is that international students are so much in demand that universities are even willing to lower their entry requirements for some of them and there have been many news articles on that alone. Even Oxford had announced that it would recruit considerably more international students at the expense of local ones.

The above is exactly why I would like you to consider the universities as business firms and not only places of learning. I am not saying that it is the right way of looking at it but asking you to accept it as being true. If Warwick university had not spent a considerable amount of money into building its image, into brand building as well as prettying up the campus, it would not be as desirable as other universities. Universities also have to sell themslves to students. What makes you pick Warwick over Sheffield university??? Or pick Oxbridge over Nottingham??? It is the advantages that come with having Warwick university on your Degree, or of having Oxford on your degree. At the end of the day everyone's first impression of you will be positive if you tel them you are an Oxbridge graduate. You might argue that you picked Warwick because of its campus or its repuation of good teachers or of its high ranking. But again it is all a part of brand building that lets other people know of the good proffessors or of the excellent facilities (pah!) on campus. It is true that the RAE (Research Assessment Excercise) and other methods are extremely important for determining the ranking of universities and universities know that. Warwick has a steering committee specifically for that purpose and it invests in proffessors that already have a good reputation in their field, it invests in facilities to develop research(hard to imagine I know) and at the end of the day when it gets the RAE ranking of 5 it makes sure to tell the whole world about it , especially to students like me that pay too much.

Ok – now to move on to the real crisis – decline in application of internatonal students!
Hard as it may be to imagine but international students are now not applying at the same rate as before. As pointed out in the articel this is because of the intense competition int he higher education sector. US Australia and UK have had the stronghold over the past few years but are not immune to foreign competition. The article explains it well

My personal views are –

The US was losing applications after 9/11 due to factors such as increased security to many visa problems etc. But are now back on track. Why??? Because they are simply the best. They have the most resources better universties and the most important factor -they give a hell of a lot of scholarships to intellignet students from abroad. UK apart from the top 10 universities does not have the quality of education that US can provide. It barely offers scholarships as universities can't afford to. The value of a degree from the US remains the highest (only for the top 50 or so universities) in the world. I have ranted about it already in the top up fees article.

Australia is another big player in the higher education sector. It has some superb universities such as University of Melbourne and Australian National University and they don't charge as much as UK universities. Australia is also a lot more agrresive in its marketing espcially in Asia and again it offers more scholarships and grants as well as for some degrees the promise of citizenship afterwards (especially Engineering and Medicine)

Singapore, UAE and Malaysia are emerging markets but especially singapore is a really important one. The National University of Singapore has an amazing exchange program with the top 25 universities in the world, not only amongst students but also proffessors. Singapore also has a tie up with the University of Chicago for some research and teaching.

To sum up my views. The UK is losing out because of competitiveness (or lack thereof) in its higher education sector. If universities were given more finances, more freedom to choose how to spend their money and especially more fees the situation would be a lot different. Price is not the only factor determining where students go. People will buy a BMW even if it increases its prices because of the brand image of BMW, just as people are willing to borrow $100,000 to do an MBA in Wharton or Harvard because at the end of the day the investment will pay off. So Uk needs to do a lot more to build the UK brand in the higher education sector – by hiring Nobel laureates as proffessors or people of similar calibre, by investing in research institutes like the 100,000,000 Math research laboratory being built in Cambridge, by adding value to a degree beyond pure knowledge becaue at the end of the day you may be brilliant but if you do not market yourself well you will not recieve the right pay.

I have come to UK becaue my parents chose it for me and because I prefer the people in UK, I have heard of a lot of negative attitudes towards people of south asian origin in the US and have experienced racism in Australia myself. UK is also a beautiful country and it has the largest Indian population outside of India. But I chose Warwick because of its high ranking in economics, good reputation back home and the fact that representatives of Warwick came to my school to persuade us to come here. The fact is rankings matter, branding matters and how you sell yourself as a university is also extemely important.

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