Sixth-formers face a ‘two-tier’ clearing system as elite universities shut their doors to competent British applicants while continuing to recruit overseas students paying up to £20,000 a year.
Prestigious institutions including Edinburgh, Nottingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, York and Exeter are taking advantage of rules which strictly limit numbers of British students while placing no restriction on the lucrative international market.
Some universities will only enter the clearing system for international students while others will offer a greater variety of courses to candidates applying from outside the European Union.
Clearing opens as A-level results are issued on Thursday.
As home applicants face mass rejections, institutions admit they will advertise some places in clearing as being available only to international students.
Ministers admitted that up to 3,500 candidates with three straight As in their A-levels are expected to be turned away this year, as well as tens of thousands of others with decent grades that would previously have landed them a place.
The row prompted fresh calls for reform of university funding and the easing of strict admissions targets and fines which govern recruitment of home students.
Last year 60 institutions were penalised a total of £16million–£3,778 per place for 4,235 places–for recruited too many students.
University bosses say the fines prompted admissions staff to take an ultracautious approach this year, with some actually under-recruiting and leaving ‘home’ places unfilled.
At the same time, institutions can take as many non-EU students as facilities allow.
With international students paying market rates for their courses–up to £20,000 a year in some cases–they are crucial to many cash-starved universities.
According to a Daily Mail survey, at least ten leading institutions are welcoming applicants from outside the EU while closing off applications from British or EU candidates, or offering limited clearing places to UK/EU students and considerably more to international.
A further ten, including Oxford and Cambridge, said they would not recruit international students through clearing.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests international students can make their own admissions arrangements with some universities right up until courses start.
Explaining its clearing policy, Edinburgh, which intends to recruit an extra 100 international students this year, said its UK/EU places had been filled and ‘certain courses in clearing may . . . only be available to international students’.
Cardiff University said it would offer a ‘limited’ number of places to non-EU students through clearing, with international student numbers forecast to rise nine per cent this year.
York listed six courses with clearing places available for UK/EU students, and added that places were available for overseas applicants ‘on these and other courses’.
Nottingham’ s non-EU recruitment is forecast to rise five per cent this year, while Surrey said it would offer clearing places to international students ‘if we are likely to exceed our funded numbers for home/EU students’.
Exeter said all courses were expected to be ‘full’ but ‘there may be some limited places for international students.’
At Worcester, where new international student numbers will rise 20 per cent this year, called for urgent reforms to give universities greater control over recruitment of home students.
Professor David Green, the vice-chancellor, said: ‘It’s very important we don’t alienate young people in this country.
‘The fact international students are going to be welcome at a number of universities this summer shows it’s not a lack of capacity. We can provide the places–the problem is we are not being allowed to do so.
‘If we were to take on a British student who says “here’s my money, I’m willing to pay”, it would be illegal. It’s very wrong.’
Geoff Lucas, general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading public schools, warned the Government it faced a ‘public relations disaster’ if it was unable to explain its policy clearly.
He said universities must be given more leeway to recruit home students without threat of fines: ‘With the potent cocktail of reduced funding, fewer places and bleak employment opportunities, the Government ought to be more sensitive in looking at each university on a case-by-case basis.’
BOSSES LOOK ABROAD
Tuition fees charged to undergraduates from Britain and the rest of the European Union studying in England are capped at £3,290 a year.
Since it costs more than this to educate them, the state tops up the funds with a teaching grant to universities of about £5,000 per student, depending on the course.
The Government tightly controls the number of places available at university to manage these costs, as well as the bill for subsidised loans to cover tuition fees and living costs, which the Treasury is committed to paying.
Universities face no such restrictions on the number of non-EU students they can recruit, since they can charge the full cost of courses of up to £20,000 a year and there is no obligation on the Government to fund student support.
Non-EU student numbers soared nine per cent between 2004/05 and 2008 /09, compared with a four per cent expansion in the university sector as a whole.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were 251,310 non-EU students registered at UK universities in 200 /09–just over one in ten of the total student population.
They are estimated to bring in nearly £3billion a year–a significant slice of universities’ £25.4billion income.