THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION
26. The quality of the education on offer is key
to continued success in attracting international students to the
UK. As the Chief Executive of HEFCE said in our very first meeting
in the inquiry, the UK cannot compete on price, so it must compete
on quality. Two aspects
in particular interest us here; the quality of the experience
international students have when coming to the UK, and the quality
assurance for collaborative ventures involving UK universities
27. On the first, we were told that some students
are dissatisfied if the majority of students on their course are
also from overseas. Martin Davidson said:
] there is very strong evidence of dissatisfaction
amongst students about the educational experience they get if
there is a predominance of foreign students, particularly if it
is a predominance of foreign students from a particular country,
most usually China, on that particular course. Certainly there
are some courses in the UK where upwards of 75% of the students
may well be from overseas, and I think that does have an impact
on the overall reputation of the institution overseas."
28. Professor Richard said that the UK had to operate
"at the very high end of quality" and that there was
a risk that, to address "the under funding of our educational
activities historically", universities would be tempted
"to go for volume rather than go for quality.
You bring in overseas students at premium fees. They are not necessarily
the best students, because the best students will be going to
institutions that will give them financial support, and then they
do not get the experience that they had anticipated paying those
premium fees and you suddenly get into a downward spiral".
International students bring academic,
cultural and financial benefits, and the majority of universities
have international strategies which recognise that. The HE sector
needs, however, to guard against the risk that the recruitment
of international students will be seen as driven by short term
gains in fee income by ensuring that the teaching and research
offered are of high quality. Building genuine partnerships and
engaging in thoughtful collaborations will lead to more sustainable
relationships with institutions and students from other countries.
29. UK institutions offering courses in other countries
are subject to scrutiny by the Quality Assurance Agency. We were
told in China that there had been some sensitivity there about
an overseas agency coming to examine institutions, which we hope
the QAA will take note of for the future. Professor Lan said that
there were state council regulations regarding standards for collaboration
and joint programmes, but that in the first instance it was for
institutions themselves to evaluate the quality of their partners.
The ultimate arbiters of quality would be the students, saying
whether or not the education they were receiving was of high quality.
Universities need to ensure that their partnerships in other
countries are designed to provide high quality education in order
to be sustainable for the long term.