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‘An internationally funded university’: UoA Turns to International Students to Boost Revenue

As Numbers of Non-European Students Grow, AUSA Raises Concerns Over Diversity and Inclusion


By Clive Davies

Photo by Aedan Brennan


The University's student body has become increasingly diverse, an investigation by The Gaudie has found. A review of the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data reveals a significant increase in both the numbers and percentage of students from Asia and Africa at the University of Aberdeen since the 2017/2018 academic year.


In 2017/18, the University enrolled 790 Asian students ( 5.5% of all students), whereas in 2021/22 those numbers were 1,760 and 10.6% respectively. Data for African students displays a similar trend, an increase in number from 330 to 610 and an increase in percentage from 2.3% to 3.7%.

However, the overall percentage of students that come from outside the UK has declined over the same period, from 33.3% to 28.3%. This decline can largely be attributed to the collapse of EU student populations following the UK’s exit of the European Union and the cessation of European education schemes such as Erasmus+.


In 2021/22, EU students comprised only 9.2% of the student population, less than half of the 19.9% in 2017/18. Data concerning American and Middle Eastern students revealed no significant differences over the same time period.


Supporting the trend of increasing diversity, individuals on a Tier 4 student visa now comprise 5% of undergraduates and 14% of taught postgraduates, according to data received via a Freedom of Information request reviewed by The Gaudie.


In the 2018/19 academic year, those numbers were 3.6% and 6.9% respectively. Tier 4 students pursuing postgraduate research have also increased, albeit by a more modest amount of less than a percent, 1.9% compared to 1.2% in 2018/19.


When asked for comment, a representative of the University told The Gaudie:


'We are proud to have students from more than 130 different countries and staff from more than 80 countries – it benefits our teaching and research output and is just one of the reasons we are consistently ranked among the best in the world for international outlook. Inclusivity is at the heart of our Aberdeen 2040 strategy and this includes a commitment to secure the highest standards of equality, diversity and inclusion as well as our commitment to provide an international education to learners from all around the world.'


'The growth in our international student population also reflects the high levels of demand for studying in Scotland, which brings clear economic benefits to universities and the wider economy. An additional factor is the rise in the number of EU students who now require a Visa as a result of Brexit.'


According to Universities Scotland, the representative body of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, more than 65,000 students from over 180 countries study in Scotland, generating an almost £2 billion net contribution to the Scottish economy.


AUSA VP for Communities Camilo Torres Barragán told The Gaudie he believes the University is courting more international students to Aberdeen due to financial reasons, as international students often pay much higher fees than UK students.


While the University did not respond directly to the assertion, they directed The Gaudie to a statement made by the Director of Universities Scotland, part of which read:


'Scottish universities … are reliant on income from international students to subsidise the cost of teaching Scottish students due to underfunding from the Scottish Government.'


According to the University of Aberdeen’s annual report & accounts, the total revenue from fees paid by students on Tier 4 visas amounted to £57,297,000 in 2022. This is a substantial increase from the £42,447,000 of the previous year, and more than the revenue gathered from Scottish, RUK and EU students combined.


As previously reported as part of our coverage on the recently launched Borderless Campaign, concerns have been raised by AUSA about whether this change in student demographics is being represented among staff.


When these concerns were raised by The Gaudie, the University offered this response: ‘The latest HESA statistics for 2021/22 report indicate that over 25% of our staff are from outwith the UK, only a few percentage points below the percentage of students from outwith the UK. However, we continue to strive to ensure our staff community reflects the multiple diverse characteristics of our students.'


When asked whether recent demographic changes have spurred any changes in the University’s hiring practices, they responded: ''Last year the University launched a new Recruitment and Selection Policy which places an emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion – including steps to ensure we attract candidates from under-represented groups. This Policy supports our Antiracism Strategy, where we outline key steps the University is taking to improve staff racial diversity across the University.'


According to statistics revealed in the FOI request, persons belonging to racialised groups constitute 18.14% of academics, persons belonging to racialised groups who are also from non-UK countries constitute 12.55% of academics and only 5.62% of all staff.


When asked for comment, Torres Barragán, the face of the Borderless Campaign, had this to say: 'We understand that the focus on international recruitment is a sector-wide issue and responds mostly to finance reasons, but we still demand our university to work as hard on welcoming these students as they do on bringing them here. We also welcome a more international student body, but if the university just stays the same and doesn’t work on offering these students a good experience, it means this will become an internationally funded university, not an actual international university.'

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