As the fees continue to rise, the number of international students is going to fall

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Universities love international students. They pay more in fees than local students. In the next academic year, 2016/17, international students at Durham University will have to pay a total of £28,000 in fees. This is because tuition fees for international non-EU students have been raised from £14,900 to £16,500 for non-laboratory based subjects, and from £17,900 to £20,900 for laboratory based subjects. College fees have also risen from £6,819 to over £7,000.

A quick comparison with other universities in the country reveal that Durham’s tuition fees are actually comparable to other universities in the country. Unlike British students, international students are subject to different, and often higher, tuition fees. Fees for the London School of Economics (LSE) are £17,712 a year, University College London’s (UCL) are currently £15,660 but are set to rise next year, and King’s College London’s (KCL) are £16,250. It is worth noting that Cambridge University’s fees are from £15,816 with college fees between £5,400 and £7,720, and Oxford University’s fees are £15,295 with college fees of £7,135. When the changes come into effect next year, both these universities will be cheaper than Durham.

One might argue that the above examples reflect how expensive things are generally in the south. Indeed, the nearby University of York’s fees are £15,680, and Newcastle University’s fees are a relatively measly £13,315. Worth noting is that York’s accommodation fees range from £4,120 to £6,732. Durham has been described as a ‘southern’ university in the north, and it’s not just because of its large numbers of students who come from the south of the country. The rise in tuition fees will make studying at Durham almost as expensive as it is in London. This is significant because one reason why so many international students choose a university like Durham over ones in London is because of the perceived cost savings they will enjoy. Combine this with the fact that the London universities feature more prominently on the global stage, and it is not a surprise that while universities like LSE, Imperial, and UCL are 30 to 40% international students, Durham only has a meagre 15% of its population as international students. Thus, Durham should be making itself more, not less, accessible to foreign students.

International students look beyond national boundaries when deciding where to study. While it is true that American universities remain much more expensive than British ones, reputable universities in other countries cost less. The National University of Singapore’s fees are from S$29,050 (£13,699), the Australian National University’s fees are from A$31,008 (£15,066), and the University of Hong Kong’s fees are HK$146,000 (£12,579). Universities in these countries provide good quality education. While the quality of education might not be as high as British universities, for some families who are unable to afford the cost of a British or American education, degrees from these cheaper institutions are just more cost efficient. If fees in the UK continue to rise, it will not be surprising to see fewer and fewer international students apply to the UK as a whole.

There are about 3,000 non-EU international students in Durham. The top ten countries represented are, in descending order: China, Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore, America, Malaysia, France, Norway, India, and Nigeria. It would be a shame to lose the diversity that Durham enjoys if it should increase its fees to even rival the London universities, depriving those from poorer backgrounds of a Durham education. Not every student can get scholarships, bursaries, or enough financial aid to see them through their years in university.

Durham University is proud of its links with foreign universities, which allows Durham students do a year abroad, and more significantly it also allows foreign students from these partner universities to do a year abroad in Durham. Should fees for non-EU international students rise, it will reduce the number of applicants coming to Durham via these programmes. The number of international applicants for undergraduate programmes will naturally be expected to fall as well. The blunt truth is that on international like the QS and THE, Durham loses out to other institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. If it wishes to out-price these universities elsewhere in the world, pragmatically speaking, why would students continue to want to come to Durham?

Durham is not alone in the raising of its fees, with many other British universities similarly raising theirs. The question which is most pertinent is why it chooses to raise it to be on a par with universities in the south, making Durham one of, if not the most expensive university in the north of the country. Arguably, Durham is in a position to be able to command higher fees if it thinks the education it offers is superior — superior goods do command superior prices. But one can’t help but wonder if there is a limit to how much an education should be quantitatively valued at.

Image: Olga Lednichenko via Flickr

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