The international reputation of British universities is under fire, according to figures released this week by UCAS.
The year 2011, according to these statistics, saw a drop of 11% in applications for British universities from within the European Union.
Though the number of international applicants to British universities is still on the rise, the decline in EU-based applicants could have disastrous consequences: Consultancy firm London Economics estimates that £5.66bn could be lost in revenue from fees in the next decade. Failure to recruit international students could also lead indirectly to a loss of £2.3bn in the British economy.
Several factors have contributed to the declining popularity of British universities amongst students in the EU. For the first time this year, applicants from the European Union are facing the new tuition fees of £9,000 a year, with the result that many European students are choosing to study in their countries of residence. In addition, it would seem that immigration crackdowns and negative publicity are discouraging potential foreign applicants.
At the University of Oxford, foreign students constitute a greater proportion of the undergraduate body than the national average: At Oxford, 15% of undergraduates are international students; the national average is 12%. Oxford, it seems, retains its appeal for foreign students, who comprise over a third of the university’s student body, some 7,500 students.
Jakub Warmuz, a first year computer scientist from Poland, spoke to Cherwell about his reasons for applying to Oxford, emphasising the university’s enduring reputation as an internationally-acclaimed hub of intellectual activity, “I’ve chosen Oxford because I’ve always dreamed of studying here, since my first visit to the UK, when I was about 11. Actually, I was so determined to study here that I didn’t even apply for any university in Poland.
“I applied because of Oxford’s worldwide reputation and everyday opportunities to meet world specialists in any field” he said. “I also wanted to meet people from different parts of the globe, to exchange opinions, to build up my knowledge of different cultures, and possibly arrange some international business after graduating. It’s not that it’s not possible in Polish universities, but the percentage of international students in Polish universities is incomparable to that in Oxford”.
Though Warmuz was enthusiastic on the possibilities with which Oxford provided him, he also commented on the obstacles international students might face, “Some students don’t want to leave their friends and family in their native country. Also, a lot of people don’t believe in English skills, and don’t even consider studying abroad because of an assumption that they’ll fail linguistically”.