UK: Overseas students question university cuts

International students already at universities in the United Kingdom have looked on in astonishment as the government proposed a three-fold increase in domestic tuition fees and swingeing cuts to university funding in England which will hit the social sciences and humanities especially hard.

In particular students from developing countries, many of them involved in their own countries' education systems, believe the proposals unveiled recently will be counterproductive and could harm a leading higher education system.

"Western universities have made a mark because they believe in an interdisciplinary approach and have emphasised the humanities and social sciences along with basic sciences," said Danny Den Xeopa, a philosophy student from Nepal studying at Sussex University.

"Today, the sciences are looking more towards the humanities to answer social and cultural problems. Wiping out the humanities and social sciences will finish the higher education system in the UK," Xeopa said.

Students felt that a lot of money was already being spent globally on research to mitigate the problems created by excessive use of technology.

"The world is facing a huge environmental crisis because we blindly industrialised and used technology. Now we are going to repeat the mistake if we focus only on science and technology," said Khalid Mohammad, a student from Peshawar, Pakistan, at the Sussex Institute for Development Studies (IDS).

Babalwa Ntabeni, a masters student from South Africa, felt science and humanities should be given equal weight in government policies.

"In South Africa, for instance, we have gone to great lengths to have different programmes to fund and protect indigenous languages. We need subjects like history, philosophy and sociology to understand our society as much as we need science and technology for development," said Ntabeni, who is also the director for universities in the Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa.

"Most developing countries look to the West and emulate its curriculum, teaching methodologies and even education policies. In a globalised world, the UK must consider the broader consequences of its higher education policy," said Arindam Sahay, another IDS masters student.

Early this month, during his visit to China, Prime Minister David Cameron said raising tuition fees would ensure that UK universities were well funded. It would also mean that the UK would not rapidly increase fees for overseas students.

He argued that in the past the UK had pushed up fees of overseas students to keep down the domestic student fee. Although foreign students would still pay a significant amount of money, according to Cameron, the government would now be able to keep that growth under control.

Overseas students in the UK are not buying into this argument.

"Cameron's argument is fundamentally wrong. An increase in domestic fees will in no way guarantee a freeze in fee for overseas non-EU students. The reason that the government never had a cap on fees for foreign students was to give universities the liberty to fix the fee," said Sahay.

According to Florence Mwindula Chikalekale, an education expert from Zambia pursuing her masters at Sussex, studying in the UK is already unaffordable for many non-EU students.

"Most students, especially from developing countries, can only afford to come to the UK on a scholarship. For self-sponsored students, the rules on studying in the UK are very stiff. One should have a proved income base to access a study visa. These rules will not change. I don't see how this policy will encourage more foreign students to come to the UK," she said.

Chikalekale said the fee hike would adversely affect domestic students.

"A country's education policy should be for the domestic population and not geared towards attracting foreign students. The market for basic training is saturated and what students now need are higher courses to assure them of better employment opportunities. The government policy seems to be working in reverse," she said.