“Doubling foreign enrolments is ‘unbelievable’ aim”

So, are international student numbers set to double?

According to Times Higher Education:

English universities are relying on “unbelievable” plans to increase international student numbers by up to 100 per cent in four years as government policy leads to fears of volatility in home student numbers.

Wonkhe THE logoDurham University plans for a 97 per cent increase in non-European Union undergraduates between now and 2014-15, while the University of Exeter is planning for a 73 per cent rise in certain areas in the same period.

Senior figures in the sector warn that universities are relying too heavily on unrealistic targets for overseas income in their financial planning.

For 2010-11, English higher education institutions aimed to increase their non-EU student fee income from £2.1 billion (9.6 per cent of total income) to £2.3 billion, according to figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

But in a statement to Times Higher Education, the funding body highlights increased competition for international students between UK universities, and fiercer recruitment battles with other nations.

A Hefce spokesman said this “implies optimism in some of the current growth forecasts”.

Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of new universities, said Hefce had used stronger words in informal discussions about future projections.

“Every (institution’s) strategic plan includes losses of money on home students and a massive increase in international students. (Hefce) says it is unbelievable. It is unlikely the numbers would increase by the amount people are predicting.”

Are HEIs’ targets ‘unbelievable’? There will undoubtedly be optimism here. There may even be a little desperation in some quarters. But no university can ‘rely’ on targets. It’s the delivery that counts. And sustained delivery of recruitment targets depends in large part on delivery of a high quality student experience. It’s about an awful lot more than just clever marketing and a large dose of optimism.

Of course there will be institutions which fail to deliver fully on over-optimistic targets but many more will be able to grow in a sensible and managed way. This is despite the likely negative impact of Tier 4 visa changes. Unfortunately though this line of argument does rather take us into Daily Mail ‘foreign students steal our degree places’ territory.

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