Bristol Uni accused of recruiting international students on lower grades than UK applicants

The Sunday Times has claimed international students can get into Bristol with only three C grades

The University of Bristol has been accused of paying recruitment agents to offer international students places at the uni despite holding considerably lower grades than UK applicants.

According to an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, the university is one of 15 Russell Groups offering international students special one-year pathway courses which, upon completion, can potentially give them access to undergraduate degrees despite having inferior grades to what is normally expected.

The investigation discovered that international students hoping to use one of these pathways to move onto an economics degree at Bristol only need to obtain three C grades, whereas UK applicants need A*AA to get onto the course.

Younger international students (aged 16-17) yet to take A-levels are also accepted onto the pathways providing they have achieved five B grades at GCSE.

The special pathways, called the International Foundation Programme and International Year One, are one-year courses designed to help international students reach a similar academic level to British students.

The International Foundation Programme is a course which has the potential to move students onto full undergraduate study, while International Year One is an alternative to a degree’s first year, with students having the potential of moving straight into second-year.

Bristol University is reportedly paying the US firm Kaplan to recruit foreign students for its International Foundation Programme.

Over five years, the firm has helped the university to increase the annual number of students on the programme from 150 to 450.

While UK students cannot apply to this pathway, a spokesperson for Bristol University said it “is similar to pre-courses offered to UK students through our widening access pathways, such as our foundation years in STEM, Arts and Social Sciences and our Gateway programmes to Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science.”

Bristol International Student Centre (BISC)

It’s important to note that the pathways don’t guarantee entry onto an undergraduate course as international students are required to meet a further set of entry requirements, including passing exams.

However, speaking to The Sunday Times’ undercover reporter, a university student recruiter said that passing these sorts of exams is usually a formality as they are purposely extremely easy.

Another recruitment official said the International Year One course was 70 to 80 per cent easier to pass than the normal first year of a degree.

The Sunday Times’ undercover reporters also spoke to Jane He, an international recruitment manager for the private firm Into, who said the centre they manage supplies foreign students to Bristol University.

She explained the foundation course was easier than A-levels and that the pass rate stood at 90 per cent.

“The knowledge they are learning is very basic,” she added before revealing that about a dozen foreign students each year study an International Year One course with them before entering the second year of an undergraduate course at Bristol or another Russell Group university.

Into said: “Our programmes are intensive and high quality, and meet all UK requirements.”

A third-year economics student at Bristol Uni, who is from the UK, said: “It’s unfair for everyone. The international students will struggle when they come to the university as the course is designed for students with higher grades, so they will probably fall behind or have to work extremely hard to catch up.

“Secondly, it’s very unfair for us as we are being held to higher standards. It makes the work we put in to get high results meaningless if people with three C grades are allowed onto the same courses.”

The director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, said: “It is wrong and unfair for universities to allow overseas students with far lower entry qualifications to squeeze out UK students.

“Acting in this way risks damaging the reputation of Britain’s great higher education sector and unfairly disadvantaging teenagers who aspire to study at their own country’s world-leading universities.”

A recruitment official representing four Russell Group universities explained to The Sunday Times’ undercover reporter why this is happening. They said: “International [students] pay more money and the [universities] will receive almost double, so they give leeway for international students.”

While tuition fees for UK students are capped at £9,250 per year, there is no cap on fees for international students, as such they pay significantly more.

For a Bristol economics degree, students from outside of the UK must pay £26,400 per year – a figure lower than some other degrees at the university.

With the costs of running a university increasing significantly due to inflation and rising energy bills, it is no surprise why increasing the number of international students via this method is important for the university.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “As a global university we have a thriving UK and international student community.

“Like many universities, we have programmes for UK students to welcome and offer fair access to students from a wide range of backgrounds and we also have pathways for prospective international students to bridge the gap between different education systems.

“One route is the pre-degree International Foundation Programme and conditional entry requirements to a first-year undergraduate degree. This is similar to pre-courses offered to UK students through our widening access pathways, such as our foundation years in STEM, Arts and Social Sciences and our Gateway programmes to Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science.

“The Sunday Times story referenced fails to distinguish between entry requirements for International Foundation Years and full degrees. International Foundation Years are designed to prepare students to apply for full degree programmes. They do not guarantee entry to them.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

‘We can’t put on our shows’: Students petition against Senate fifth floor closure

Deputy PM criticises Bristol Uni’s decision to remove the national anthem from graduation

Bristol Uni to change logo but not rename buildings following inquiry into slave trade links