Universities face ‘huge damage’, warns study

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The effects of Government reforms to higher education are highly uncertain and have the potential to cause “huge damage” to the university landscape, a think-tank has warned.

In particular, moves to tighten restrictions on foreign students could lead to major problems in the future, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has said.

An HEPI report found a continued increase in the number of foreign students coming into establishments and a rise in the number of state school pupils admitted to universities.

Plans to triple fees to a maximum of £9,000 were approved by MPs in December 2010, while last year the Government unveiled proposals for a “radical” clampdown on student visas which could cut the number of foreign pupils coming to Britain by around 25 per cent.

According to the HEPI report, commercial pressures are likely to increase as a result. Important university funding comes from foreign students, and the plans to tighten visa controls could potentially cost the economy £3.6bn in lost tuition fees and visa fee income, MPs have warned.

In 2009-10, 79 per cent of full-time students were from the UK. Of the remaining 21 per cent, two thirds (14 per cent) were from outside the EU, up from seven per cent in 1996-97.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the HEPI, said: “There’s potential for huge damage if they get it wrong and the signs are that they aren’t doing it entirely right.”

The report’s warnings come amid calls for an investigation into a “concerning” decline in the number of establishments offering maths at degree-level while the number of pupils applying to study the subject is on the rise.