Times are certainly getting harder for international students. Recently ‘The Complete University Guide’ published the results of a survey on universities.  The survey concerned international (those who are not from the UK and EU) students and how much they were going to be charged to study in the UK for the 2013-2014 academic year.


The results were certainly interesting:

  • Undergraduate fees for international students are to start at £7,450 per year for lecture-based courses.

  • International students who want to study for a medical degree could pay up to £35,000 per year to do so.

  • Of the universities that offer clinical-type courses, Sheffield, Southampton, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol and Cambridge all stated they would charge more than £30,000 a year to non-home and non-EU students.

The National Union of Students was quick to condemn the plans, claiming that international students were being treated as “cash cows.”  A spokeswoman for the umbrella body for universities, Universities UK, rejected the notion and claimed that, as universities are competing on a global market, the fees should reflect this too.

I guess the main reason for making the fees as they will be from September has something to do with ‘only bringing the best’ international students to the UK.  I mean, if I’m an international medical prospect, I wouldn’t even think about paying over £30k a year to study in the UK if I didn’t think I could handle it.  

Which neatly brings me onto ‘the best’ and some recent controversy that I’ve spotted from my student flat in Lincoln…

The notion of bringing in the best was first hinted at when our Home Secretary Theresa May bluntly told the international student community “you need to speak English to learn at our education establishments.  If you can’t, we won’t give you a visa.”

About right I say.  The trouble is, the system clearly isn’t working.

In order to prove your competencies speaking and understanding English, universities in the UK set a standard requirement that international students should meet in order to attend the university when English is not the first language spoken.  The same goes for exchange students from outside the EU too, I’m told too.

  • Students can take the IELTS – International English Language Testing System.  This is a multi-stage exam that covers aspects such your ability to listen, read and speak English.  The mark awarded is graded between 1 and 9, the latter being the highest possible score.
    Most universities require a score of 6.0 on the test overall (with Cambridge asking for 7.5), with no less than a 5.5 in each individual test.  A 6.0 is described as a ‘competent user’, who ‘generally effective command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations.  Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.”

  • Many universities also accept TOEFL – Test Of English as a Foreign Language.  This looks at the four main skills in learning a language – reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Marked out of 120, entry requirements vary from around 75 to as much as 110.

  • If a student is from the EU, a GCSE in English at a Grade C or above is frequently accepted.

Let us take the example of my university: University of Lincoln.  A grade of 6.0 on the IELTS or a mark of 79 on the TOEFL is needed from international students on top of their entry requirements (journalists need to have an IELTS of 7.0).  Surely then you would imagine students holding these qualifications could keep up with the pace of English-lead lectures, seminars and work?

Incorrect.  What I’ve seen in my first two years of International Business Management in Lincoln is as follows:

  • I don’t know how some of the students in the Business and Law faculty gain a grade 3.0, let alone a 6.0.  I worked with several Chinese students over the course of my first two years and never have any of them been able to speak the language effectively enough to contribute to group activities, let alone produce work where it warranted the same mark as the other members of the group.

  • During my second year, one group in my HRM seminar group were given a Chinese student to work with for the group project and presentation – the student in question was accused from start to finish of not turning up to large numbers of group meetings (likely down to not understanding when/where the meeting was) and not being able to contribute or understand the meetings that they did attend.  However, each member was still given the same mark for the project, despite disproportional amounts of work.

Personally, I am concerned that something is amiss here.  Is the university ignoring their own entry requirements or is there something wrong with the exams themselves?  Most likely it is the latter – surely universities wouldn’t set requirements to help follow the course, only to make them optional.  Either way, I certainly wouldn’t call some of the international students I’ve seen ‘competent speakers.’

If the current system is working then should it be up to universities to administer tests?  Well, places like Lincoln do offer courses to help and serve as an alternative to the other qualifications.  However, I am concerned at the cost – in excess of £1000 for a five week course compared to taking the IELTS for a fraction of that.  Suddenly I worry that we’ll end up slapping another stack of cash on top of extraordinary fees, deterring potential stars.

It stops being the best that apply. It becomes the richest.

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I'm an active energetic person. I enjoy long-distance running and have taken part in many organised events including the 2016 Prague Marathon. I'm a keen skier and love open-water swimming, when the weather is right!