A fee hike for international students is deeply unfair

Increasing already extortionate fees will make the lives of international students even more difficult.

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There is nothing accessible about the 10% hike to international student fees. It has recently been announced that the fees for overseas students at Oxford are due to rise by over 10% for more than 40 undergraduate courses.

This change would put many international students in a very difficult position with respect to applying for and studying at Oxford: although this is perhaps only the tip of an iceberg when it comes to the wider difficulties international students face as they seek to pursue their studies here: from porters mistyping ethnic minority students as tourists, to colleges having deeply unfriendly vacation storage policies, to the repeated failures at facilitating the integration of international students who are studying in the UK for the first time.

International students – as is the custom for UK universities at large – pay significantly more than their UK and EU counterparts. For international students, the rates and fees of Oxford, even with all its funding and scholarships, remain disproportionately exorbitant.

Many of my friends who contemplated applying for Oxford eventually settled for other (equally valid, but not their desired) universities back home or elsewhere in the UK. For an institution that brands itself as the apex of intellectual discovery, this is problematic, unfair, and hugely exclusionary. Prospective talents are put off from applying or taking up their offers, because for all the fanfare about funding (especially at undergraduate level), students from abroad find themselves shunned by an unhelpful administration and excluded by prohibitive bureaucracy.

Most current international students find themselves scraping by in order to make their academic and financial ends meet.

I’ll be frank here: I myself had the privilege and fortune of attending the University of Oxford as an undergraduate on a full scholarship from a generous donor. Without the scholarship, I would have struggled with the fees, and that is in spite of my family’s relatively decent finances.

The intuitive response to my observation may be – international students are wealthy: surely, they are far better than domestic students in terms of affording Oxford’s fees. Some may well be.

But not that friend of mine whose parents are retiring soon with limited pensions and heavy mortgages yet to be paid off; nor that friend of mine whose parents sold their only apartment to raise enough money for them to come to England for sixth form and college; nor many amongst the 43% of Oxford’s student population – 17% amongst its undergraduates – who are not UK or EU citizens.

Individuals’ life chances should not be predominantly determined by the resources and prospects of their parents. Meritocracy alone is arbitrary enough; we have no case to introduce a further arbitrary variable that compounds the birth lottery with the wealth lottery.

Perhaps the question is one of feasibility. Yet it would be unfair to dismiss the egalitarian cries here as simply infeasible, because we know full well that what we deem feasible is the product of negotiations and historical processes that have typically excluded international voices and left some of the least represented nationalities erased and silenced.

Finally, Oxford and Cambridge – given their historical snobbery and role in producing some of the finest disastrous governing minds that wreaked such havoc across the world during the colonial era – should recognise that they have core reparative duties to at least offer those with talents and aspirations, born in other countries, a fair chance at entering and thriving in them.

Now the further objection may be – if other countries aren’t doing it, why should the UK? See the classic anti-slack-taking challenge to taking up the burden of mitigating injustices (Miller, Cullity): why should we scratch the backs of other countries’ citizens when they don’t do it for our own?

This mentality is understandable, but misguided. It ignores the fact that citizens – 18 to 21 year olds – often have limited to no say over their countries’ educational policies. It also assumes that just because a problematic practice is currently the norm, we should maintain it as such – for all the fanfare of a post-Brexit, better England, here it becomes ironically reluctant at taking up greater leadership roles and positions as a leading country in the world for education.

Moreover, it isn’t true that all countries charge their overseas students exorbitant fees – and even if their private universities do so, there is no reason why Oxbridge should be allowed to get away with this, given their unique roles as neither fully private nor public.

We do not allow injustice to be committed again merely because it has already happened – why should we let superficial cries of so-called ‘fairness’ drown out the voices of those who would truly need and deserve the opportunities to acquire the world-class knowledge and skills championed by Oxford, very possibly to make a difference to their own countries and the world?

Finally, there’s the objection from local interests: that international students ought to cross-subsidise poor and deserving local students. Yet this claim conflates the claim right of local students with a particular claim upon foreign students.

It reeks of the classic, callous claim that pits white working class against foreign migrants workers. It neglects the fact that it is years of deliberately or incompetently maintained austerity that has left this country’s education infrastructure damaged and its students, youth, and future generations collectively deprived.

Why should we allow the UK government and education establishment to drive us apart, to impose upon us artificial divides at their own convenience? Life’s unfair, you might think. Deal with it.

Sure, but dealing with it should not be akin to remaining silent and complicit, in face of injustice. We can deal with unfairness by removing it.

Because there is nothing more frustrating than the exploitation of ‘local interest’ as a cheap political excuse to dismiss our obligations to strive for greater fairness and justice for all – whether they are students or migrants.

Because wealth is a deeply arbitrary metric in allocating education spaces, which makes current students feel unwelcome and future students feel deterred, thus undermining the meritocratic end objectives of tertiary education.

Because I was lucky, but many are not.

Because international students deserve better. Because we can do better

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