Scottish universities increasingly reliant on international students due to government underfunding

The Conservative Party argued that the cap on funded places for Scottish students has, in essence, compelled universities to turn away talented domestic students, STV news reported.

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The Scottish government’s purported underfunding of universities has led to an increasing dependence on revenue from international students, according to reports.

The Conservative Party argued that the cap on funded places for Scottish students has, in essence, compelled universities to turn away talented domestic students, STV news reported.

 “The SNP’s unacceptable underfunding of Scottish higher education means that our universities are becoming ever more dependent on tuition fees from international students,” Liam Kerr, spokesman for the Conservative education, told the news outlet.

“Our universities’ reliance on international fees is having an unfair impact on young Scots,” he added.

A surge in arrival of international students

According to figures provided by the Scottish Conservatives, the number of first-time international undergraduate students coming to Scotland has tripled since the SNP came into power. 

In the 2021-2022 academic year, at least 18,280 international students arrived from outside the European Union, up from 6,000 in 2007-2008, marking a 205 percent increase. In contrast, the number of new Scottish students starting university during the same period only grew by 60 percent. In 2021-2022, a record 33,880 Scottish-domiciled students began full-time degree programs at Scottish universities, an increase of 595 from the previous year.

Kerr called on the government to “urgently lift this cap so that more local students can attend universities in their own country.”

A spokesperson from the Scottish government defended the reliance on international students, emphasizing their significant contributions to society, culture, and the economy. 

“[International students] add to the diversity of our communities, enrich the learning experience and support local businesses and jobs,” the spokesperson stated.

The spokesperson also noted a 31 percent increase in the number of full-time first-degree students with Scottish domicile since 2006-2007. 

Furthermore, they highlighted a record enrollment of students from economically deprived areas in Scottish universities, citing a recent report from the Commissioner for Fair Access as evidence of Scotland’s leadership in providing equitable access to higher education in the UK.

Growing focus on international enrollment

According to a report from the Guardian,  the United Kingdom is witnessing a decline in admission opportunities for domestic students at top universities, primarily due to a greater focus on international students who pay higher tuition fees.

Although the government has frozen tuition fees at £9,250 per year for local students for the next two years, experts believe that, adjusted for inflation, these fees have effectively reduced to around £6,000. 

Prestigious universities, in particular, are increasingly prioritizing international students as a strategy to compensate for this financial setback. 

Overreliance on international students

In June, the “ Profiting From Pandemic? Scottish Universities During COVID-19” report raised concerns about Scottish universities profiting from foreign students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report said that during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022, Scottish universities, including the University of Glasgow, not only avoided income and student losses but saw accelerated income growth. 

It added that the University of Glasgow emerged as the third-largest university in the UK and the largest in Scotland, primarily due to increased international student enrollments. 

The University of Glasgow strongly refuted the report, calling it “fundamentally untrue” and “willfully misleading.” 

The institution argued that the report misrepresented their actions and aimed to undermine the work of students and staff, denying any aggressive expansion during the pandemic and emphasizing broader sector-wide trends in increased student applications, along with financial aid options and additional revenue sources.

The report emphasized the substantial rise in international student numbers driving revenue growth in Scottish universities and warned of overreliance on international tuition fees as the primary income source, citing potential inequality among universities in attracting international students and the impact on class sizes and learning experiences.

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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