Are UK universities sacrificing standards in order to get more foreign students?

Personal view

As someone who is from Britain and takes pride in UK education and it’s reputation, it’s disconcerting to see some of the UK’s top universities announcing joint collaborations with organisations that may not necessarily meet the same high standards. This is not to suggest that ‘we’ should not be trying to help elevate or help institutions around the world in their pursuit to join the ‘upper tier’ of universities, or to give them a helping hand in elevating their research status, however, in a world where there is obviously a great deal of pressure to earn ‘big bucks’ and compete with universities in the USA, Canada and Australia to name but a few places, the UK needs to stand back and look at what it see’s as it’s future.

We can’t keep harking back to ‘Great Britain’ and expect people to blindly accept that the UK is the place to study. Potential students around the world are much more savvy about these matters. Many institutions around the world are ‘catching-up’, and rightly so. Their hard work is paying off, and the world is noticing. As China, Singapore and others gradually climb up the academic ladder as a result of, no doubt academic blood, sweat and tears, the UK is in danger of compromising for the sake of another dollar.

On a related note, there are a lot of students coming into the UK after having taken a language proficiency test, very often the IELTS. Is getting a 4.5 (or even a 6) on IELTS sufficient enough to allow these people (after a year of English) to go on to do a basic degree, a masters or even a PhD?

How strict are UK universities in enforcing plagiarism rules? What checks exist? Are we going soft on candidates who pay a foreign fee? There is a view that some students have ‘writing advisors’ who are helping them complete their work. Do UK universities give preference to foreign candidates to local ones, because they can rake in more money? I’d like to suggest that we start researching these questions, or more immediately there is some kind of quality audit process in place.

Although this blog sounds somewhat alarmist and potentially damaging, in reality, it is a wake-up call. Historically, the British brand has been exceedingly valuable, and still is. However, if someone somewhere, with the powers that be does not start taking a closer look at UK Plc (the higher education sector), there is a danger that the value and expertise that exists in the UK, will take second place to the new up and coming universities, simply because some over-exuberant decision makers are looking a little short-term.

The British higher education sector is a strong player internationally, a place that I would encourage people to go to, to further their education. However, if Britains’ educational mandarins are seeing dollar signs, and that is what’s driving them, then I for one will have to think again about recommending the UK to those I know.