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International fees surged by 100% since 2018

A Cherwell investigation has found that international student fees have doubled from 2018 to 2023, rising from nearly twice the home fee to around four times as much. A big part of the increase can be attributed to the large hike from 2018 to 2019, when average fees rose by 54% in one year. 

The University did not comment on the reason for the sudden spike, however the 2019 fees were paid three months before Brexit occurred, which eventually led to EU students being dropped from special consideration in 2021. 

How does the university determine tuition?

A recent Cherwell Freedom of Information request revealed the process behind how tuition fees are calculated. The University stated: “Fees for overseas students are agreed through a longstanding process involving stakeholders at all levels of the institution.”

The overarching Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC) determines the initial rate rise before the departments make adjustments and the Joint Fees and Student Support Advisory Group (JFSSAG) approves these changes and presents it back to the PRAC. The factors considered by the committees include “inflation (CPI), projected cost increases, application numbers, impact on scholarships, and competitor benchmarking,” according to the university. 

Although the University assures that “[s]tudent representatives are involved at all stages of the process and there are student members of both JFSSAG and PRAC”, the PRAC is a 20 person committee with a very wide jurisdiction and the only student representative on it is the SU President. 

Furthermore, while the JFSSAG has 2 student representatives (the Education & Access officers for Undergraduates and Postgraduates respectively) among its 11 members, there are no explicit provisions made for the representation of international students, whose fees are the ones up for negotiation. 

Fee increases

While home fees have remained constant, the rate of international fee increases have outpaced inflation in every year since 2019 except 2022, contributing to the growing gap between home and international student fees. Despite the pound’s loss of value in the aftermath of the Truss ministry, the cost of tuition has continued to grow in dollar terms too, rising from $44k in 2021 to $46k in 2023.

Another aspect of the price increases has been the convergence of fees for STEM and humanities subjects. While STEM fees were 30% higher than humanities degrees in 2016, this premium dropped to 14% in 2022. Philosophy, Psychology and Linguistics, for example, has increased by 42% from £31k in 2022 to £44k in 2023.

Change in international student demographics

International students have an important role to play in any global university. At Oxford, they made up 46% as of December 2022, which included 23% of undergraduates. Currently, they make up a total of one third of all students and around 21% of undergraduates. 

Prior to Brexit, EU students paid the same as home students, however under the new system they pay the same as all other international students. The impact of these changes has been stark, with the proportion of EU students falling from 8.2% in 2018 to 3.8% in 2022. 

Impact on the University’s accessibility and diversity

The fee rises have changed the composition of the international student cohort, and therefore the entire student population. This is due to the large financial challenges that now face prospective international students, particularly those from developing nations. 

SU President Danial Hussain told Cherwell: “The recent rises in tuition fees limits Oxford’s international student body to mostly wealthy individuals, undermining the university’s commitment to academic excellence and accessibility.”

This is in contrast to the wide-ranging changes to admissions criteria that have been made over the last couple years to make Oxford more accessible for UK students, which have led to a significant increase in the proportion of state schooled students as well as people from underprivileged backgrounds and communities. 

A second-year law student, Nanditha Dileep, expressed her frustration at the inaccessibility of the university: ”The ‘world’s best university’ is only restricted to the economically privileged, or that if anyone from a background that isn’t financially privileged dares to pursue their academic dreams, they’re saddled with student debt and loans as a price for their ambition.”

“After getting into Oxford, I started mentoring other students who wanted to do the same. These students come from families that scrape up every penny to send their children abroad for a better life. However, despite being extraordinarily academically gifted, many choose to apply to other universities instead of Oxford, in order to make it affordable.

“Other students choose to do cheaper courses when they’d much rather be doing other ones because international students’ fees differ by the subject.”

Impact on students

The University states that they undertake “a detailed review of fee rates to ensure that these remain competitive”, enabling them “to continue to deliver world-leading teaching, research and a wide range of student support services against a backdrop of increasing financial pressures.” However, fee rises have made the “Oxford dream” significantly more challenging to attain for international students. 

A second-year Biomedical Sciences student from Germany told Cherwell: “Personally, I have had to resort to hours and hours of research, culminating in only barely scraping together enough funds from three different foundations across different countries to support my studies.

“I also have to renew these annually, which makes me anxious about the ability to progress through my course.”

He also addressed the difficulty faced by international students from underprivileged backgrounds to attain funding, adding: “Compared to for example Ivy league universities in the US, Oxford offers no form of financial aid and only little support to a very tiny amount of international students from a selection of countries. Although some students, e.g. from HK, may be able to access governmental funds, others, especially from EU countries, are neither eligible for support from the UK, Oxford nor their home country.”

“Working for Project Access, a non-profit supporting underprivileged international students applying to top universities in the world, it has been disappointing to see how many were discouraged to apply to Oxford due to financial hardship. Ever since Brexit, the number of EU students and thus diversity amongst the student body have also dropped. Diversity should be valued and is an integral part of the uni experience.”

Oxford’s international dilemma: national champion or global leader?

How to consider international students and their fees is a dilemma that results from the university’s two interlocking missions. On the one hand is the role of the university as a “national champion” that exports its quality education, all the while utilising the profits made from international students to subsidise home fees and fund scholarship programs for UK students from underprivileged backgrounds.

The other goal is to reinforce the university’s world renowned reputation for its research, education and alumni. On how to achieve this, the SU President said: “For Oxford to maintain its status as a globally leading educational institution, it must focus on admitting the most qualified applicants, irrespective of their ability to pay.”

It is likely that this dilemma will persist well into the future, at least as long as it continues to be both globally renowned for its research, and central in shaping Britain’s future generations. 

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