Universities are becoming primary victims of the chaos enveloping Britain’s public sector. News reported in the Guardian has vice-chancellors pleading for a “new model” of government funding. This follows reports that one-third of England’s universities are trading at a deficit. Since almost one-fifth of UK students in higher education now come from abroad – 125,000 of them from China – there is near panic at the Home Office’s determination to slash student immigration.
Some universities, including Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield, UCL and Imperial, rely on Chinese students alone for between a quarter and a third of their income. This means that any Beijing sanction on Britain – such as for mentioning the Uyghurs too often – could turn off this tap at source. Chinese numbers are already falling, by 4% last year, and are compensated only by soaring numbers for Indians, Nigerians, south-east Asians and 135,000 dependents. This last figure the Home Office is eager to cut.
This situation is highly unstable. The number of EU students has plummeted by more than half since Brexit. International students pay between £10,000 and £38,000 a year – the highest fees in the world – and are in effect super-taxing their own, often poor, countries to cross-subsidise UK students. Despite this, the University of Kent already has a £65m deficit and Leicester’s de Montfort a £10m one. Vice-chancellors now have lecturers on strike, crumbling buildings and forced redundancies. In February the vice-chancellor of East Anglia, David Richardson, faced a £30m hole in his budget and resigned. Last month his replacement was flanked by a security guard at a staff meeting.