Are top universities in the UK favoring international students over domestic ones?

More places will be offered to international university students during clearing.

Top universities are offering more spots to international students than to British candidates in clearing, The Telegraph can reveal.

Analysis of courses advertised by UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) shows that international students are being offered hundreds more undergraduate degree places at Russell Group institutions through clearing than their British counterparts.

This means that British teenagers who fail to achieve the necessary A-level grades for their first-choice courses when results are announced on Thursday could miss out as they try to find an alternative course.

This comes as the number of international students in UK universities is on the rise, with 679,970 students studying in the UK in 2021-22.

University tuition fees have been capped at £9,250 for domestic students since 2017, while there is no limit on fees for international students.

Ten Russell Group universities have offered more places to international students than to British students in clearing ahead of results day on Thursday.

These include Durham University, which had no courses available for British students through clearing over the weekend. However, it is advertising 90 courses for international students, from accounting and ancient history to physics and computer science.

University of Liverpool also had no courses available for British students, but offered 581 courses for international students, including aerospace engineering, biochemistry, business management, and English literature.

Leeds is only advertising 13 courses for British candidates, including nursing, midwifery, arts, and humanities, with five foundation courses. However, it is marketing 181 courses for international students.

British students have been warned that competition for places through clearing will be tougher this year compared to recent years.

In a statement to The Telegraph, Clare Marchant, the head of UCAS, and Vivienne Stern, the CEO of Universities UK, said that universities “have increased the number of offers made ahead of results day, meaning they may have fewer places available through clearing than in previous years.”

Tens of thousands of pupils are expected to miss out as A-level results for this year’s cohort face record high-grade inflation, with standards returning to those seen before the pandemic.

However, admissions experts warn that universities are likely to favor international students over British ones, who have to pay four times higher tuition fees.

Dr. Mark Corver, former director of research at UCAS and now the CEO of dataHE, said: “Universities are grappling with difficult decisions as they consider results for a record 253,000 18-year-olds who will get their offers this week.”

He added: “With the biggest-ever A-level grade change in the offing, it’s likely they’ll have more near misses than normal to consider.”

“Universities intervened to help UK students affected by the pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021. But this year, they will find it harder to do that at that scale. High inflation has eroded the real value of the fee cap, which has already lost a third of its real value since 2012 and most of that in the last two years.”

“With salary levels and other costs continuing to rise, many universities will feel compelled to take in more high-fee-paying international students to try and counteract these losses, impacting the choices of British students.”

The government has set a target to have 600,000 international students studying in the UK by 2030. This goal was achieved in the 2020-21 academic year, with 605,130 international students studying at universities, higher education colleges, and alternative providers. This marked an increase of 109,000 from 2018-19.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “This is the first hard evidence of what we predicted for 2023.”

“It’s great that UK universities are diverse communities with many international students, but the downside is that universities are currently losing money on home students and therefore actively discouraging recruiting them.”

“At some point, policymakers will have to bite the bullet and raise fees or find other forms of funding for universities, or they’ll have to accept that university courses will be increasingly geared towards overseas rather than domestic students.”

Universities in the UK do not have a cap on the number of places they can offer to students. However, Russell Group universities are often constrained by physical space, student accommodation, and faculty resources.

The Scottish government has set a cap on the number of Scottish students who can study at domestic institutions, where they do not have to pay tuition fees.

Universities could face strong backlash if they prioritize international students over domestic ones during clearing.

Priti Patel, former Home Secretary, said: “Our universities have a responsibility to support and nurture British students in their higher education and should take pride in investing in the next generation of graduates, who will contribute to our society and country.”

“These important institutions are recognized and supported by the government to do so, and any suggestion of discrimination against British students should be investigated by my colleagues in the government.”

Iain Mansfield, Head of Education at Policy Exchange, said: “This is a really bad look for universities.”

“International students genuinely contribute to higher education, but the fact that leading universities are openly favoring them over British applicants will raise questions about the generous subsidies these universities receive from taxpayers.”

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow, which is advertising 655 courses for international students and only 20 courses for British students, said: “Claims that students from Scotland or elsewhere in the UK are losing out to overseas peers at the University of Glasgow are not accurate.”

“The University of Glasgow – which has its Scottish student numbers determined by the Scottish Funding Council – cannot exceed these allocations.”

A spokesperson for the Russell Group said: “Confirmation from Ofqual that the grade distribution will revert to that of 2019 has given Russell Group universities more confidence in making offers than last year, which may mean they are less flexible in providing clearing places in some subjects.”

“However, most Russell Group universities still have clearing places this year, as they have in previous years. In addition, there will be additional clearing places for a wider range of subjects after results day.”

A spokesperson for Durham University said: “We are receiving Ucas results under embargo and are in the process of decision-making and analysis to determine the vacancies for both home and international students.”

“Decisions will be made this week, and we anticipate opening up courses for domestic students.”

She added: “Courses are not offered to international students at the expense of home students.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Clearing is a dynamic process, and the number of clearing courses will change throughout the week.”

“Many universities will reopen courses for domestic students on and after results day as they have a clearer picture of which students have met their offers.”

“The number of students from families who are progressing to higher education has increased in recent years and now makes up over three-quarters of the total university students in Russell Group universities, while the overall number of international students studying at these universities for undergraduate degrees has decreased in recent years.”

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