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International comparison of foreign student fees – a UK perspective

An enormous amount of attention has been paid in the last year to the evolving policies related to tuition fees in the UK (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, November 2010, July 2011). These funding changes, as well as new student visa and immigration regulations (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2011), have generated concerns about potentially negative effects on UK universities’ competitive position in the world when it comes to recruiting international students.  So, where does the UK stand with regard to fees for international students? A new report – International Pricing Study: A Snapshot of UK and Key Competitor Country International Student Fees – aims to begin a ‘market intelligence-based’ conversation around this very issue.

Published in July 2011, the study was commissioned by the UK Higher Education International Unit and carried out by i-graduate. The goal was to provide insight into how the UK fee situation compares to that of nine competitor countries, namely: Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. Fee data relevant specifically to foreign students in 2010-2011 were collected from four to six institutions in each of these countries (plus the UK), as a means to examine the range of cost levels within and across countries. Fee information was gathered at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, for postgraduate research programmes, and for courses within four disciplinary areas: history, mechanical engineering, chemistry or physics, and business studies (excluding MBAs, based on the study’s concerns with “unrepresentatively high prices” for many of these programmes).

Among the key findings and recommendations: 
  • Seven of the nine countries set their fees at “market rates”, meaning that “pricing is likely to become increasingly important and needs to be based on robust market intelligence”. 
  • Reputation and fees are not directly aligned, meaning that institutions must “demonstrate to international students that they are providing value for money”. 
  • Contextual concerns beyond the direct issue of fees are also important. These may include the availability of additional student support, the duration of study programmes, and language training for students. 
  • Students deserve “transparent information” when it comes to living costs and the risk associated with currency fluctuations. 
  • UK universities would be wise to stay abreast of the “competitive positioning” of other countries with respect to immigration regulations and employability benefits, as well as the financial incentives being offered to international students, for example in the form of scholarships and fee waivers.

This first-time “market scan” is expected to be updated annually from now on, with a focus on tracking changes in institutional pricing strategies and currency fluctuation effects.
UK Higher Education International Unit