Are British students being ‘pushed out’ by foreign students?

A recent investigation conducted by the Sunday Times found that international students were being offered places at British University with much lower grades than British students. 

However, on reading the article beneath the headline we quickly discover that the international students were being recruited onto one year foundation courses while the British students were being recruited onto regular degree courses. 

There is still a wide held belief that international students are taking places away from British students. It is widely thought that universities are motivated by money. They charge foreign students double or more for the same courses, and this is detrimental to British students. 

However, if we examine the data closer it appears that the opposite may be true!

bar chart comparing the numbers of British, EU and International students at UK universities.

In 2012 the maximum fees per year universities could charge for a course was set at £9000. Today it is still only £9250. 

Fees simply haven’t risen in line with inflation. Everything is more expensive today, especially the wages for lecturers. 

In real terms fees have slumped to only £7000 a year. This isn’t enough to pay for the cost of running universities and courses. 

Today universities lose money for every British student they recruit. 

However, fees for foreign students are not capped, and so universities make a profit on these. These profits subsidise places for British students. International fees make up 10-30% of many universities’ income. Hence capping the numbers of foreign students would probably be detrimental to them. 

British students are not being squeezed out…

If you compare the figures from 2019 with 2023 the numbers of UK students at British universities has increased by just under 20 000, an increase of just under 5%.

Over the same period the number of acceptances of foreign students has increased by 15000, an increase of just under 35%. 

However the above figures do not include students from the EU, who are counted in a different category. There were 30 000 EU students in 2019, but only 10 000 in 2023. 

Thus, if we add together the figures for ‘International’ students and ‘EU’ students we find there are fewer students in 2023 than in 2019. 

The main reason for the decline of EU students is Brexit. EU students used to be treated the same as British students with the same fees, but now they have to pay the international rate. 

Relevance to A-level sociology  

This is relevant to the sociology of education, especially the topic on globalisation and education.

It would seem that if you look at the data in some depth foreign students are effectively subsidising UK students. University fees in the UK have been kept low by the government and don’t cover the costs of education. Hence universities need more foreign students who pay higher fees to cover the costs!


This is a summary of a recent More or Less podcast

Office for Students Annual Review 

81% of young adults are furious, frustrated or angry about house prices

In 1980 50% of young adults aged between 18-34 owned their own homes.

Today only 20% of young adults live in their own homes. (1)

This is because of increasing house prices. In the 1980s the average house price was 4 times the average wage. Today the average house price is eight times the national wage.

It now takes 13 years on average to save for a deposit on a property. Assuming you start at 22, this would mean you’d be 35 before being able to afford a place.

This is a 100% increase in the cost of the most prized possession in British society: one’s house.

House ownership is part of the British dream. The idea is you work hard, save money, and are able to buy your own place. But house ownership is becoming increasingly unreachable for younger people.

This is especially true if you live in London, where the average house price is 30 times the average wage. There is no point someone on the average salary even trying to save for a house in London.

And even if you do live in London, saving for a deposit would be a struggle for most. If you want a social life, or family, and you have to pay rent, that doesn’t leave a lot left over.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This makes me think of Merton’s Strain Theory. A crucial part of the British Dream – house ownership – is now unreachable for most through legitimate means.

So according to Merton’s Strain Theory we’ve probably got a lot of younger adults suffering anomie.

The problem is it’s VERY difficult to gain enough money to buy your own home through illegitimate means. So there’s possibly a lot of people who are responding through ritualism, retreatism or rebellion. In other words, there’s a lot of pent up misery and anger out there.

There is some evidence in this from of surveys on home ownership.

One survey in 2022 found that 66% of Millennials and 59% of Gen Zers saw home ownership as a mark of success. (Conducted in America, sample size 2500). Affordability was the main reason for not owning a home.

Another survey of of 1500 young adults in Britain conducted in 2023 adds further support. This survey found that 81% of young adults were either Furious, frustrated or angry about housing affordability. 44% had either completely given up or thought it unlikely they would ever buy a house.

All of this suggests there is a lot of pent up frustration out there amongst Young People. This can only be made worse by the increasing inequality in house ownership. The top 10-20% of 30 somethings are able to get significant parental support for a deposit. How can this not fuel a sense of resentment? It should do because this is people benefiting from wealth they have not earned.

What is interesting is how the political elite seem oblivious to all of this. Think about how they paid so much attention to the recent cost of living crisis. But this crisis was only a 20% increase and mainly offset by wage increases. In contrast, here we have an ENTIRE two generations facing a 100% increasing in house ownership. And what have to Tories done about this: absolutely nothing.


(1) The Week, 20th January 2024, page 12.

Is banning prayers in school discriminatory?

Michaela Secondary School and Sixth Form lead by Katherine Birbalsingh is openly secular. It is also the BEST school in the country. It has ranked number 1 for Progress 8 in the last two years. It gets better GCSE results than many private schools despite having 25% of its pupils on Free School Meals.

For eight years they had no prayers in school, and provided no prayer rooms for pupils, making this clear to the students and parents before they chose the school.

Now, one of the school’s pupils is suing the school on the basis that the prayer ban is discriminatory. Birbalsingh is fighting back against this and wants to maintain the prayer ban for the benefit of everyone else.

Historical Context to the prayer ban

When they opened in 2014 30% of the school population was Muslim, which the school has since grown to 50%.

Birbalsingh points out that it is not possible for the school to have prayer rooms and maintain its strict ethos of silent corridors and staff attending ‘family lunches’ where children eat together in assigned groups of six.

This is because they don’t have enough space to provide prayer rooms for 350 Muslim pupils, so would have to open up many of the classrooms instead, which would mean removing bags and books and other pupils carrying all of their stuff with them. It would have knock on effects, probably meaning corridors would not be silent.

Because of the lack of prayer rooms pupils were allowed to pray outside, but somehow word spread outside the school that were no prayer rooms and an online petition was created to encourage the school to get indoor prayer rooms (which wouldn’t work).

The petition escalated into threats against school staff from outside.

During Ramadan recently this started to have a knock on effect with some of the Muslim pupils, with some of them applying peer pressure on less devout pupils who didn’t fast during Ramadan to do so.

As a result of all of the above Birbalsingh banned all prayer because it had become a divisive issue. The school had previously been a happy place where everyone got along regardless of religion or ethnicity.

The prayer ban is entirely in line with pupils of most faiths making sacrifices so all students can get along. Some Christian parents, for example, don’t like Sunday revision sessions but they put up with it for the benefit of the collective.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is clearly relevant to both the sociology of religion and education.

You use this to criticise postmodern ideas about education. It seems that a good old functionalist ethos of schooling where the community comes first works to get the best results!

The school has succeeded so far because all individuals make certain sacrifices for the benefit of the whole.

Now we have one pupil hell-bent on changing everything so they can get their way.

It seems to me that there is no case of discrimination here, just one upset individual who needs to learn to sacrifice like everyone else. If they get their way, everyone else is going to suffer.

Of course if you think that people CHOOSE their religion, and their way of practicing it, then it’s impossible for this to be discriminatory.

This is a very interesting case of individual rights versus the collective good. It’s a good example of how individualism has gone too far in our postmodern age, maybe…?

Kweku Adoboli… From Rogue Trader to Critique of the Banking System…

Kweku Adoboli was convicted in 2013 of the largest fraud in British history. While working for UBC bank as a trader he disguised the amount of risk his trades were exposing the bank to by creating fake hedging trades which could have minimised losses.

He ended up losing the bank £2.3 billion, plead guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 7 years in prison in 2013.

He served 3.5 years, and then spent another couple of years unsuccessfully trying to avoid being deported to Ghana. This is despite the fact that he’d spent most of his life living in the U.K where his family and friends were also based. However he never bothered getting U.K. Citizenship and this meant it was easy for the U.K. government to deport him once he’d become a convicted criminal. He was eventually deported in 2018.

This TED video is worth a watch where he outlines his side of the story…

Was he a scapegoat…?

While Adoboli took responsibility for the the losses he incurred, he says this was because of his Quaker upbringing: you own responsibility as part of your duty to the community.

The problem is that UBS didn’t have the same sense of duty to him.

Adoboli says the bank was fine with his risk-taking when he was making the bank money, and much of the time sorting out other people’s problems. He says all that he was doing was working within the logic of the banking system to make them more money.

But as soon as this problem occurred they blamed him for the bank’s losses and put it all on him.

In reality, it was the culture of banking that was the problem. Adoboli’s job it turns out was sit between wealthy clients and the bank and make ETF trades to help clients avoid tax. That was his job, to basically shaft society for the sake of the rich, and he had to take risks to do that.

He now thinks banks encourage people to lose site of morality and just focus on making money without thinking about the consequences.

He maybe has a point, that it was the banking system that encouraged him to do what he did, even if he took responsibility.

Britain is a backward country…

Following his deportation he is also very critical of Britain. He sees it as a country in decline that is looking backwards. It is scared, closing its borders, and we see that today in the anti-immigration stance taken by the country.

Britain is also a country of blocked opportunities for young black men, which becomes obvious when you look at the ethnicity and crime statistics.

In contrast he thinks African countries such as Ghana have a chance to develop more inclusive democracies which empower young people.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is just an update on the biggest white collar fraudster in British history. It’s interesting to hear his side of the story, rather than just the narrow media agenda.

To find out more you can see Kweku’s own website.

The North South Divide in Education

There is a clear north-south divide in education: children who live in the north of England are more likely to live in poverty and be absent from school, both of which are correlated with lower educational achievement.

This is according to a recent report published in 2021 called ‘Child of the North‘.

Child of the North: Key Findings

  • 27% of children who live in the North of England live in poverty compared to only 20% in the rest of England.
  • Only 14% received four or more pieces of offline schoolwork during lockdown compared to 20% in the rest of England.
  • Sure Start funding was cut harder in the North. Funding was cut by £412 per eligible child in the north, compared to £283 per child in the rest of England.
  • The report estimates that the cost of lost learning to children of the North will be equivalent to £24.6 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes.

Child of the North: Recommendations

The report makes 18 distinct policy recommendations. Taken together they represent a multi-agency approach which doesn’t just focus on schools.

The report recommends the government needs to invest in child health care and welfare services as well as education, focussing on early years care. This is the most effective way to make sure children are well fed and get a decent foundation before starting school.

The report is also a big supporter of schemes such as Sure Start.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This report reminds us that social class inequalities remain today, and that there is a regional dimension to them.

The report supports the kind of education policies that New Labour introduced, such as Sure Start.

Should Trans People have Equal Rights?

Should Trans People have Equal Rights Purely on the basis of their self-declared gender?

This issue came up recently in January 2024 in the case of Rachel Meade versus Westminster Council.

Rachel Meade is a social worker who works for Westminster Council. She recently posted content on Facebook which criticised the idea that society should just accept trans’ people’s self-declarations of their own gender, irrespective of their biological sex.

Specifically, she was critical of the idea that individuals who are biologically male but declaring themselves female should be allowed the same rights as people whose sex is biologically females.

picture of Rachel Meade
Rachel Meade

Context: Criticising changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act

The 2004 Gender Recognition Act states that society only needs to recognises a transgender person’s self-declared gender if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and consulted with two medical professionals.

Recently, it was proposed to change this so that social institutions should recognise a transgender person’s self-declared gender purely on the basis of that self-declaration. That is, without any formal medical consultations.

Rachel Meade had been critical of these proposed changes, pointing out that social institutions had encouraged the following:

  • allowing trans women who are biologically male to enter female only public spaces such as changing rooms and toilets.
  • encouraging schools to support pupils transitioning without informing their parents.
  • some police forces had recorded crimes as being committed by women when the perpetrators were biologically male.

One of Meade’s Facebook ‘friends’ informed Westminster Council of the above, arguing her views were discriminatory against Trans people. Westminster Council responded by ‘bullying’ Meade into silence, but she fought back with the help of Social Work England.

Last week the courts found that Westminster Council had discriminated against Meade by not allowing her to express her gender critical beliefs. They also found that her specific content on Facebook had not discriminated against Trans people as it wasn’t demanding the removal of rights just on the basis of people being Trans. Rather her arguments were nuanced, referring to the belief that Trans people should only be granted equal rights if their gender-identity had been sanctioned by professionals.

Should there be some limits to Trans rights…?

Gender identity is a protected characteristic under the 2010 equality act, so on that basis Trans people have the right to freedom of expression and gender recognition based on their own interpretation of their gender.

However the problem is when we look at the rights of Trans women (who are biologically men) to enter female only spaces, especially those where women may be vulnerable.

Examples where this doesn’t seem to make sense would be domestic violence support groups for women, and medical settings where women may only want to be seen by a Doctor is biologically female.

If social institutions were to allow and support trans people to have full equal rights in their institutional settings this would deny vulnerable women the right to be seen by someone who is their own sex.

This is a tricky issue and an evolving one. At the very least I think professionals need to be allowed freedom of speech to contribute openly to the debate!

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Michelle Mone, and the PPE Rip-off: A Rare overt example of the extractivist attitude of the elite..?

During Lockdown in 2020 Baroness Mone used her contacts to help set up a contract to provide PPE equipment worth £220 million between the Department of Health and a newly founded company established by her husband, PPE Medpro.

The company provided gowns for the astronomical sum of £120 million, but they were unusable, and Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, made a profit of £60 million.

The government is suing the company for that £120 million but Mone and her husband say they will defend themselves. As far as they are concerned, they have the right to keep that profit they made for providing substandard goods.

They effectively are going public saying they have right to keep £60 million of public money for effectively providing nothing.

They think they have the right to profit off the back of an unprecedented national crisis and essentially from the suffering of others.

A rare example of the elite admitting their extractivist logic…?

While the shameless attitude of these two multimillionaires may seem shocking, from a Marxist perspective, this is how the elite works all the time.

The only thing unusual about this case is that here we have two members of the elite openly saying how they operate in relation to the State and the general public.

This is the naked business of capitalism: exploit people to make a profit and this is precisely what Mone and her husband have done.

They have taken advantage of a crisis to make £60 million. They have taken advantage of her networks in politics, which is the point of politics for the elite.

Their existence is not to provide public goods, it is to extract as much as they can from the State and the general public, and that is what they have done.

According to Marxism this is what most members of the capitalist class do. This is simply capitalism as usual. What is unusual is the extremity of the case: to have made so much money for providing basically nothing, because the gowns they produced were unusable.

Maybe this explains why they are so brazen: because they are being singled out, whereas all their elite buddies are getting away with extracting and going under the radar.

They are annoyed, not because they feel guilty for profiting of other people’s suffering, but because they are the minority of the elite who have got singled out doing what for them is perfectly normal!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example to illustrate the problems of capitalism and the continued relevance of Marxism today.

It’s also an example which supports the Marxist theory of crime. As far as I can see, these two awful human beings haven’t done anything technically illegal. However they have caused huge harm to the public. Marxism suggests we should look at harms rather than crimes.

Is progressive education the cause of declining education standards?

The latest PISA data, published on 5th December 2023, shows that Scottish education standards have dropped between 2018 to 2022. The downward trend in the standards of Scottish education, as measured by the PISA tests, mirrors trends in Scandinavian countries, France and Quebec. 

What all of these countries have in common is the introduction of progressive education models. 

In progressive education less emphasis is given to learning core skills in maths, science and reading, less focus on fact-based learning. More emphasis is placed on teaching transferable and work-based skills. 

This has been a fashionable idea in education for many decades. The theory being that focussing on learning knowledge isn’t the best way to equip today’s students for future jobs. They can, after all, find information at the click of a button (they can just ‘google it’. So it makes more sense to develop skills that may be of actual use later on in life. 

The problem with progressive education theory is that it isn’t based on any evidence. And in fact the statistics suggest that moving away from traditional, knowledge based learning harms children’s education. 

In contrast, those countries which have shown the highest levels of improvement between 2018 to 2022, as measured by PISA, have focused on more traditional, knowledge based curriculums.  

Comparing England to Scotland is informative here. While Scottish schools have become more progressive, English schools have stayed more focused on teaching core knowledge in maths, science and English. English schools have improved, Scottish schools have regressed. 

Norway and Sweden are dropping down the PISA tables!

So is progressive education to blame for declining standards in education?

The data certainly suggests there is a link, but we should always keep in mind that other variables may be the cause. However with Scotland, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Spending per pupil hasn’t decreased and the pupil teacher ratio is better than in England. 

What we should be critical of is the validity of the PISA tests. These test a relatively narrow range of skills: precisely the fact based knowledge which is favoured by traditional education. 

What might be going on is those children who have had a more progressive education are less well trained at answering narrow PISA based tests. It might even be the case that they are less likely to see the point of them than children who get a more traditional education. 

So this drop in the PISA table positions may just mean Scottish children and getting an equal but DIFFERENT type of education to, for example, children in English schools.

It may be that when it comes to employability and the ability to cope with real world, real life situations Scottish and Scandinavian children are better prepared. 

The point of a progressive education isn’t to train people to pass knowledge based test, after all. So maybe we shouldn’t be judging the success of education systems on rankings in PISA league tables! 

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This material is mainly relevant to the sociology of education module.  


Sonia Sodha, The Observer, December 2023: Scottish Schools Have Toppled from the Top of the Class. This is What Went Wrong.

From fear of crime to a general concern about safety and security

The British public today are not so much concerned about crime in the classic sense of the word. They aren’t so worried about being victims of burglary, or theft, or street violence for example. 

People today are less concerned about their chances of being a victim of formally defined crimes. People are more concerned about a broader and more general range of social problems which more subtly undermine their feelings of safety and security. 

For example, people today are more likely to be worried about:

  • Low level bullying such as with children at school. 
  • Gender based harassment, violence and abuse, including grooming. 
  • Hate crimes such as racism.
  • The effects of climate change, so environmental harms. 
  • Immigration and the effects this has on local social cohesion. 
  • People trafficking and human slavery. 

With the possible exception of climate change, not everyone is going to be immediately affected by the above harms. However people are more aware that they exist and that such things are going on in their neighbourhoods. None of these harms are as public or obvious as ‘classic’ crimes such as vandalism, street violence, or thefts. 

The increased awareness that these social harms are part of everyday social life has created a growing sense of unease among many people. 

From fear of crime  in the 1990s to a general concern about safety and security in the 2020s. 

Back in the late 1990s in Britain people were more concerned about ‘classic crimes’ such as burglary and car theft. The crime discourse at that time was largely shaped by mainstream television and newspapers as well as face to face contact. One Ipsos-Mori poll from the mid 1990s showed that 41% of people listed crime (and reducing crime) as one of the three biggest problems facing Britain at that time. 

These findings were largely backed up by a study conducted by Girling et al (2000): Crime and Social Change in Middle England. This was a two year qualitative study of people’s feelings about crime and policing in Macclesfield. (Selected because it was a reasonably affluent, small town where crime wasn’t an immediate day to day problem.) People naturally talked about being concerned about being victims of car theft and feeling threatened by groups of young people hanging out on the street. 

The researchers revisited Macclesfield more recently and found that people were no longer concerned about classic crimes. What they expressed was a complex and varied sense of unease about the issues mentioned in the previous section. 

Why are people more concerned about safety and security today?

People’s increasing sense of unease and susceptibility to feeling insecure is related to the following social changes:

  • Economic growth and then collapse in 2008 has made us feel more vulnerable in general. There is more of a sense that what we have gained can also be lost. 
  • The rise of digital media. The previous 2000 study was done before the age of digital media. Today people access the social world online, meaning a very different, varied, and risk-on public landscape.  
  • Climate change has become much more of a visible issue. 
  • Brexit brought the issue of migration to public attention. 
  • The Pandemic made us more aware of domestic abuse. 

The way the State responds to more global threats such as global terrorism, through increasing surveillance of certain types of people, can also affect how some people experience security issues today. 


The idea of fear of crime seems to have had its day. We need to focus on people’s more general sense of danger and difficulty in their daily lives and how they seek safety and security. 

Traditional victim surveys such as the Crime Survey of England and Wales have tended to measure people’s fear of specific crimes in public spaces, such as fear of being assaulted in public or fear of social disorder. These are possibly no longer fit for purpose! 

We shouldn’t make any presumptions about what people are concerned about. What people are worried about varies. It might be anything from how going online opens them up to potential harm in the form of scams, or risk of flooding due to climate change. 

In this sense security can be conceptualised as ‘a set of political practices, governmental speech acts mobilised to justify decisive, speedy, exceptional measures in the face of what is presented as a conceptual threat’. 

Why did girls’ mental health deteriorated during lockdown?

The number of girls and young women reporting eating disorders and self-harming were significantly higher than expected during lockdown. In contrast, the number of boys reporting these psychosocial disorders was lower than expected during this period. 

This is based on recent analysis of the medical records of 1.9 million females and 1.4 million males from over 1800 GPs, conducted between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022 (1)

Breakdown of the findings

  • Reported cases of eating disorders were 42·4% higher than expected for girls aged 13–16 years
  • Cases of eating disorders were 32·0% higher than expected for girls aged 17–19 years. 
  • The rates were similar to expected for women aged 20-24. 
  • The rate of girls aged 13–16 years who reported self-harming was 38·4% (20·7–58·5) higher than expected.
  • Conversely, for boys the reported incidents of both eating disorders and self-harm were lower than expected during lockdown. 

Why did eating disorders and self-harm rates increase for girls but not for boys during the Pandemic?

Previous studies had also found a deterioration in youth mental health due to lockdown, and this is possibly due to the disruption to daily life routines, educational routines, and increased stress within the family.

Another contributing factor may be concerns over returning to normal routines after a break and worry about the impacts of lockdown on future achievement.

Interestingly this particular study found that the deterioration in young female mental health was led by those in the least deprived areas.

Thus a further reason for this increase may be better mental health services in the least deprived areas and increased reporting by middle class teenage girls.

Temporal trends in eating disorder and self-harm incidence rates among adolescents and young adults in the UK in the 2 years since onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: a population-based study.

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