Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Downturn 'could hit universities'

Graduating students
Domestic students could find their choice of courses more limited

Universities could be in serious financial trouble if foreign students decide they can no longer afford to study in Britain.

Many British universities rely on funds brought in by overseas students.

But the British Council, which promotes education overseas, fears the economic downturn may deter international students from coming to the UK.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said the UK remained a top destination for international students.

British Council chief executive Martin Davidson said the choice of courses for domestic students could become more limited.

'World leaders'

He said: "A number of universities are highly dependent on foreign students for their viability.

"[On] some courses up to 80% of students are from overseas.

"If the students don't come, those courses will not run and that will mean our students can't take part in them."

At City University London, 27% of students come from overseas. They provide the institution with a fifth of its income.

This year for the first time hardship funding is on offer to foreign as well as British students.

City's Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Julius Weinburg said: "We had some evidence that students who we thought were going to come to this university from abroad didn't - but not many.

"Because of increased numbers of applications to the hardship fund we're concerned that students might not come back for example after the Christmas Break, they might decide they cant afford to."

But Mr Lammy said international students were attracted to study in the UK by the world class reputation of its universities and the high quality degrees they can obtain, which are recognised and valued internationally.

"As the global market for higher education changes and becomes more competitive, so our universities must adapt.

"That's why we're currently leading a debate about how we ensure that English higher education remains one of the world leaders in the future," he added.

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