British Council slams claim of huge fees gap

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am

Survey shows foreign students pay far more

The British Council in Hong Kong has strongly criticised the report of a survey in The Guardian that claims tuition fees for international students studying at British universities are 'vastly inflated'.

The newspaper published figures this week that showed international students paid up to seven times the amount British and EU residents were charged for undergraduate and postgraduate study.

Figures quoted in the survey showed the University of Edinburgh, for example, charged British residents GBP1,735 (HK$26,840) for undergraduate courses. International students paid GBP13,050, more than seven times the fee. Oxford charged British and EU residents GBP3,070, whereas international students paid GBP17,215, nearly six times more.

But the British Council said describing the difference between the rates as 'inflated' was misleading, because British and EU students were subsidised by taxpayers.

The council's director of education services in Hong Kong, Katherine Forestier, said the conclusions were 'spurious'. Fees for international students simply reflected the true cost of university education without government subsidies.

'It's as if the writer expects international students to pay exactly the same as home students,' Ms Forestier said. 'British taxes go to paying for education.'

The Guardian also reported that tuition for international students had increased 'across the board' in the past year, but Ms Forestier said these were largely in line with inflation.

Gareth Morgan, a spokesman for UK Universities - which represents all British universities and some colleges of higher education - said the government granted subsidies on a case-by-case basis using a sliding scale. 'You can't just say this is what the student pays and this is what the taxpayer pays,' he said. 'It's far too simplistic to say that.'

He said institutions such as Oxford, Britain's third most expensive university for international students after the Royal Veterinary College and Imperial College London, were given larger government subsidies because they had specialised facilities and libraries.

But former London School of Economics lecturer Mike Reddin, who carried out the survey, said the maximum variation in direct subsidies for students that a university received was relatively small.

Defending criticism of the disparity between local and international fees, he said Oxford might get additional government funding for areas, such as postgraduate research but that direct subsidies - between GBP3,000 and GBP4,000, depending on the institution - were the only ones meant to subsidise the cost of educating undergraduate students.

Mr Reddin, who was responsible for LSE's visiting student's programme for 14 years, said that even with government subsidies taken into account, British universities still overcharged international students.

Because they were unable to raise sufficient funds from British and EU students because of the cap on local tuition fees, universities had been forced to seek other income.