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 

Statistics on Family Life in the United Kingdom

This post outlines some of the ‘key facts’ students should know for the A-level sociology families and households topics.

The statistics below are taken from range of different topics covered as part of the families and households specification (AQA focus), and I find it useful to introduce students to them as part of the ‘introduction to families’ lesson.

The activity I use is to give students a series of cut up cards, some with the ‘fact’ and some with the ‘number’, students can then match them as a pair work activity, or you could do it as a stand up walk around whole class activity (one card per student).

The list of facts for students to puzzle out is as follows:

Insert image of card matching (cut up)

Once students have tried their best to puzzle out the correct answers, I give them a gapped answer sheet and get them to research the different sources of the data and comment on how valid they think each piece of data is, by thinking about HOW the data was collected, or how the figures were calculated.

Insert image of gapped answer sheet (link to teaching resources eventually!)

This blog post is effectively the extended answers to the above gapped hand-out.

What percentage of marriages end in divorce?

Almost 44% of marriages in 1987 had ended in divorce by the year 2018.

Source: The Office for National Statistics – Marriages and Divorces in England and Wales.

How valid is this divorce data?

That 43.9% figure may sound alarming, but this is only true for marriages which took place in 1987, which is the ‘peak year’ (so far) for marriages ending in divorce.

If you look at marriages from slightly earlier years, then you get slightly lower figures. If you look at the divorce rate for the years after 1987, then the figures are also lower, and they could well stay that way because of the marriage rate declining since the late 1980s. Over time, as marriage has become more of a choice, this should lower the long-term divorce rate.

It follows that if we took an average divorce rate for several years surrounding 1987, we’d see a percentage lower than 43.9%.

So the data is valid, but only for two static years – 1987 to 2018. Any other selection of years will give you a different rate. Having said that, if you look at the lines in the graph above, they do seem to follow a predictable trend, so it’s unlikely that this figure is outright misleading! Just keep in mind it’s probably the very peak!

What percentage of households in the UK are cohabiting?

In 2018, almost 18% of family households were cohabiting compared to 67% married and 15% lone-parent.

The cohabiting family household has been one of the fastest growing household types in recent years

Source: ONS – Families and Households in the UK 2018

What is the average age a woman has her first child in the UK?

The average age of first-time mothers in the UK was 28.8 years in 2017.

Source: ONS.

How many babies does the average woman have?

The Total Fertility Rate in the United Kingdom in 2018 was 1.8 – an average of 1.8 babies per woman.

Source: ONS – Births in England and Wales, 2018.

How much does it cost to raise a child to the age of 18?  

The overall cost of a child up to age 18 (including rent and childcare) is £151,000 for couples.

Source: Child Poverty Action Group: The Cost of a Child 2019.

How valid is this data?

If you work it out per year, that’s about £8300 per year that parents are spending on their children on average, which sounds suspicious.

This might be an invalid figure because it includes housing costs, and it’s a bit dubious whether this is the actual cost, given that parents need a home to live in anyway. You can’t necessarily attribute the cost of an extra bedroom in a house to having a child as many childless couples live in houses with spare bedrooms.

It follows that a figure without housing costs might be more valid as that would be closer the money that’s spent exclusively on the child.

The report also makes it clear that the figure does not represent all families – it is more expensive for lone parent families to raise a child to age 18 – it costs them £185 000.

On average, how much more money a year does it cost to live a year if you are a single person living alone?

Single person households spend 92% of their disposable income, compared to only 83% for couples, meaning there is a 9% difference between the two.

Source: ONS – cost of living alone.

In 2018 the Life Expectancy for females in the UK was almost 83 years.

Source: ONS – National Life Tables

What was total net migration to the UK in the last year?

Net migration to the UK in 2018 (latest figures) was approximately 300 000

Source: ONS – Migration Statistics Quarterly

What percentage of long-term immigrants to the UK are from the EU?

About 50 000 net migrants are from the EU, so approximately 15%

Source: ONS – Migration Statistics Quarterly

Questions for Reflection:

Do any of the above sources lack validity?

Explain your answer in the comments below!