Alarms raised over ‘fraudulent’ international student applications

International student fees have become a significant source of income for UK universities, contributing nearly 20 percent of their revenue, up from around 10 percent a decade ago.

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Lord Jo Johnson, former conservative universities minister, has called on UK universities to urgently address the issue of alleged fraudulent applications from international students. This concern, he asserts, could lead to a political backlash in Westminster if not adequately addressed.

Lord Johnson stated that the higher education sector is approaching its tolerance limits for the increasing number of international students, citing concerns over high dropout rates and insufficient means of support. He mentioned that government support for further growth in international student numbers is likely over.

Concerning dropout rates

International student fees have become a significant source of income for UK universities, contributing nearly 20 percent of their revenue, up from around 10 percent a decade ago. Despite their economic benefits, Lord Johnson cautioned that universities must combat poor quality and fraudulent applications collectively to safeguard their reputation.

Furthermore, he expressed concerns about dropout rates among Indian and Bangladeshi students, which are approaching 25 percent, calling this “entirely unacceptable.” He mentioned that previous curbs on international students, including limiting family members and closing visa loopholes, have already impacted recruitment.

Issue of fraudulent applicants

Rachel MacSween of IDP Connect noted that the uncertainty surrounding graduate visas in the UK is a significant factor affecting international students’ decisions. The UK has slipped behind Australia and Canada in terms of desirability as a study destination.

Additionally, senior leaders at top-tier UK universities have reported a decrease in international students taking up confirmed places, affecting their budgets significantly. Lord Johnson suggested that universities diversify their international student sources and improve quality, acknowledging that this would be challenging.

To address the issue of fraudulent applicants, Lord Johnson proposed measures such as charging application fees, requiring upfront tuition fees, and following Canada’s example of requiring students to lodge annual living expenses in escrow upon arrival.

Vivienne Stern, the head of Universities UK, said the importance of maintaining the graduate route for international students and expressed willingness to work with the government to ensure confidence in the system.

Lord Jo Johnson’s warning states the need for UK universities to tackle fraudulent applications and improve the quality of international student recruitment to maintain their economic benefits and reputation while navigating changing government policies and global competition.

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