Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, has warned that increasing fees and a lack of financial support may see UK universities losing their brightest students and best researchers to foreign institutions.

In his annual address to the university, Hamilton warned that better funding, more comprehensive support packages and greater job prospects abroad meant that some of the UK’s top talent might soon be lured overseas. His warnings came in the same week that other commentators made similar observations about the risk of UK students absconding abroad for higher education studies. The BBC news website reported that 4000 students recently attended a fair in London about applying to American universities – double last year’s attendance rate. It also reported that Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College has seen similar trends amongst some of his top pupils. He even went so far as to predict a mass exodus within the next four years; suggesting that a quarter of pupils from UK private schools might by that time head to the USA for their university studies.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that this shift of interest towards overseas options coincides with the government’s decision to raise UK tuition fees for home students to £9000 per year in 2012; almost treble their current rate. Top US universities have often seemed out of reach to UK students due to prohibitively high fees, but with their generous support packages and the slashing of bursaries in the UK, it is an option that is becoming more and more attractive.

University Jobs Abroad

Hamilton explained that funding was the major cause of top students and researchers choosing foreign universities over elite UK institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, pointing to the superior financial support offered by the top Ivy League universities. With their better post-graduate packages, there is a high risk that the cream of UK talent will move abroad for post-graduate studies, meaning that the UK will lose out not only on the benefits these top graduates could bring to the economy and business market, but also on the boost their academic expertise could provide for our universities.

Research Funding Axed

Another reason for this loss of academic talent is the fact that the Higher Education Funding Council has axed its £1.5 million research awards scheme, which had supported top overseas researchers in their postgraduate studies at Oxford.

Foreign Students Restricted

Just as the best UK universities are desperately battling to retain their prestigious standing alongside their international academic competitors, the government has also chosen to crack down on student visas, causing many foreign students enormous difficulty in their attempts to come to the UK for further study.

Whilst some of the government’s higher education reforms seem understandable, or even necessary in light of the economic climate, it has nonetheless been short-sighted to implement quite so many in so short a space of time. Their combined effect now seems likely to strike a crippling blow to UK universities.