Universities 'too reliant' on foreign student fees

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The Independent Online

Britain's universities are becoming increasingly over-reliant on fees from overseas students, a standards watchdog has warned.

Peter Williams, head of the Quality Assurance Agency, which monitors standards in universities, said some overseas students believed they just had to pay fees to get a degree.

"We have to make clear that doesn't operate here," he said after the publication of three reports by the agency highlighting degree standards in universities.

He also counselled against the growing practice of universities using agents to recruit overseas students instead of carrying out interviews themselves, arguing that it "could mean lowering standards".

In addition, the agency warned that the degree classification system of firsts, seconds and thirds was too "arbitrary and unreliable". It failed to take into account differences in universities.

"The way degrees are classified is rather a rotten system," Mr Williams added. "It doesn't work any more." The agency called for the abolition of the present system of awarding degrees. An inquiry set up by vice-chancellors, however, has failed to agree on a better system.

The QAA's warning comes after a senior academic, Professor Geoffrey Alderman, warned that universities were turning a "blind eye" to plagiarism by international students because they needed their fee income. He also argued that university lecturers were being told to "mark positively" to ensure their institution had enough firsts to show up well in league tables.

Overseas recruits

Top 10 universities for overseas (non-EU) student recruits in 2006-7

1 Manchester 2,815

2 University of the Arts, London 2,675

3 London Metropolitan 2,665

4 Nottingham 2,610

5= Uni College London

5= Warwick 2,320

7 Sunderland 2,220

8 Imperial College London 2,160

9 Northumbria 1,960

10 Middlesex 1,700

Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency

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