All Cardiff Uni degrees will be making a loss without international students, VC warns

‘We can either have fewer students, a decline in the quality of teaching or more investment in teaching our own students, and I’m in favour of the latter’

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan has warned Welsh universities are set to lose money, as non-Welsh undergraduates studying in Wales will soon cost their university more money to teach than the money they bring in from tuition fees and other grants. 

This follows the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for 2023-24 which shows allocation for higher education being reduced to £198.7m, which is £4.8m lower than the £203.5m allocated in the Draft Budget for 2022-23. 

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Chair of Universities Wales expressed disappointment at the announcement and noted at the same time, Welsh universities are having to manage the loss of EU Structural Funds, which provided around £350m between 2014-2021 to projects in which universities were lead partners. 

Professor Riordan explained that international students, who pay higher fees, contribute to the financial well-being of universities. The introduction of a two-year post-study work visa and the end of Covid-linked travel restrictions has led to increased international enrolments at Cardiff University.

He also added that the cut in central funding from the Welsh government, combined with inflationary pressures will mean that “all undergraduate courses will become loss-making without support from international students”. 

Furthermore, tuition paid by overseas students does not guarantee any financial certainty for universities. Professor Riordan noted that the market for international students is “extremely volatile” and is vulnerable to changes in the global economy and shifts in visa rules, adding that “most international students come for postgraduate taught masters which are only one year long […] so things can shift dramatically”. 

Research published earlier this year by the Russell Group estimated that without intervention, all university subjects will continue to face widening deficits. The average deficit incurred for each home undergraduate is estimated to increase from £1,750 in 2021-22 to approximately £4,000 in 2024-25. Professor Riordan explained that it is likely that this impact will be felt negatively in Wales due to the £9,000 tuition fee compared to England’s £9,250.

Professor Riordan said: “£250 might not sound a lot, but if you consider the tens of thousands of students we’ve taught since 2017 [when the tuition fee cap increased for English universities], then it makes a real difference.”

Based on the fact that the home tuition fee model results in net losses for universities, Professor Riordan believes a national conversation about investing more in undergraduate teaching is essential. In discussing the future of undergraduate teaching, he stated: “We can either have fewer students, a decline in the quality of teaching or more investment in teaching our own students, and I’m in favour of the latter.”

Feature Picture Credit: YouTube

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