A huge number of overseas students have benefited from studying in the UK especially since the middle of this century. However, there have been fluctuations in the financing of British academia.
During the academic year 1995-1996 according to official sources there were over 140,000 overseas students studying in the United Kingdom. British universities gained over one billion pounds from inteernational students. This money has obviously been one of the biggest sources of income for British academia.
One of the greatest changes made in academia was in 1980 when the government of the time passed a law to increase the tuition fees of overseas students to three times the rate of home students. Citizenns of EU countries were treated as "home"students in this agreement.
The ever-tightening immigration rules of the Home Office made this even more difficult for overseas students since they are not normally eligible to work in Britain, unless specifically issued work permmits. This is not an easy task for many of these students and therefore the financial situation of many of those who could previously afford to support themselves has inevitably changed. This was acccented when the rules of the universities demanded that full-time students should not work more than 180 hours a year.
The Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme (ORSAS) was established in 1980-81 following the increase in overseas students' tuition fees and was reviewed in 1993 by the four main funding bodies of higher education in the UK. This scheme was inttroduced as a response to concerns that some of the best overseas students would not be able to afford the high costs of education and therefore the nation's research base would be adversely affected. Thus, it was decided to allocate awards to a limited number of outstanding overseas students to make up the difference between overseas and home or EC student fees. This award does not include any livving costs during the course of the study.
Demand for awards and quality of applicants
In 1993 the average full-time tuition fees of an overseas student was approximately £6,000; in 1996 it was approximately £8000. This has greatly increased the financial pressure on overseas students. Even some governments (particularly of third world countries) are facing more problems in sponsoring their students. This may explain why the demand for these awards has been so high in reecent years. In 1995-96 there were 200 more applicants than in the previous year, bringing the total number of applications to 4500. The total number of awards offered by this scheme in 1995-1996 was 920. The applicants were from 95 different countries.
Selection of award holders and distribution of awards
ORSAS applications are initially processed in the applicants' preferred institutions. ORSAS sub-committees then select the best candidates solely on the grounds of outstanding merit and research potenttial. A national panel makes the final selection.
In 1995-96 the scheme supported 920 new awards and 1300 renewals making the total number of awards in 1995-96 some 2220.
Alarm Bells Ringing: The Review Panel
Following the economic difficulties in recent years and the cuts in higher education funding, a review panel was established in 1993 consisting of officers of the three funding councils, representativess of the CVCP (the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals), the SCP (the Standing Conference of Principals), the Department for Education and Employmentand the Office of Science and Technology. The aim of the committee was to consider the scope and shape of any future scheme, to assess the effectiveness of the programme, and to discuss whether there were any alternative routes of achievinng the same goals considered in the ORSAS scheme. They distributed some questionnaires to various universities in 1996.
Overseas Students: Concerns
After consultation with a number of students it is apparent that there is great concern about this issue. The difference in tuition fees between home and overseas students is up to £5000 a year andd the living costs should be added to this figure. At current rates most of these students would not be able to afford the costs of their study if not supported by the ORS scheme.
It is also important to consider that most of the award holders have outstanding academic qualities and their governments or in some cases parents could not support them if not supported by the current scheme.
The NPC's Response
In a letter sent to the review panel the NPC stated that Britain must maintain its status as a location of international high quality research: the UK must therefore attract the best international studeents. It is also emphasised that there is a rich diversity brought to research and university life by international students and that these awards support this. Current fee levels discourage many of thhe best students from coming to Britain and a subsidy is an appropriate way to encourage them to do so.
UK based research requires the input of international perspectives to enable it to be competitive and effective.
Reducing awards such as the ORSAS sends a damaging signal to the international research community and will discourage industries wanting to utilise our resource base from coming here. The NPC believes that despite the economic difficulties the scheme should be retained.
It is, however, suggested that the concentration of these awards in few institutions should be discouraged and recommended that changes should be made to ensure a more homogeneous distribution of the awwards throughout the UK.
The continuation of this award is one of the last resources available to overseas students. Britain as one of the main centres of teaching and research in the world should continue to attract the bestt students to enhance its research base and be a centre for training the researchers of the future. The continuation of such awards are only small steps towards achieving that goal.