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University of York Adopts More Flexible Admissions Policy Amid Financial Challenges

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In response to growing financial pressures, the University of York has instructed its staff to take a “more flexible approach” to admitting international students who may fall short of expected grades. This decision reflects the university’s strategic response to the evolving landscape of higher education in the UK, where institutions are grappling with recruitment challenges and financial strains.

The Russell Group university conveyed this policy shift through an email, stating that it has decided to lower the entry requirements, or “tariff,” for overseas applicants across all departments and programs. Although the typical undergraduate offer at York requires A grades at A-level, the university will now consider admitting international applicants with the equivalent of B or C at A-level. Similarly, entry to postgraduate courses would now necessitate a 2:2 award or similar, rather than a 2:1.

A spokesperson for the University of York emphasised that this adjustment aligns international student admissions with the flexible approach already in place for UK students. This move aims to address the financial challenges faced by British universities, particularly in light of frozen tuition fees for domestic students since 2016 in England and funding cuts for universities in Scotland.

Challenges in Recruiting International Students and Financial Implications for Universities

The shift in admissions policies at the University of York is indicative of broader challenges faced by UK universities in recruiting international students. With income from lucrative international student fees playing a vital role, universities are under pressure due to government policies and increased competition from countries like Canada and Australia.

Russell Group universities, including York, note a financial strain, with an average loss of about £2,500 in teaching UK undergraduates. In response, numerous universities have sought to offset these financial challenges by bolstering the enrollment of international students. This strategic approach is driven by the fact that the fees for international students are not subject to caps and can surpass domestic fees by a considerable margin. This strategic shift is evident in financial statements, such as University College London’s tuition fee income increasing by 17% in 2022-23, primarily driven by growth in the full-time international student base.

While some universities, like the University of Liverpool, have successfully expanded their international student intake, institutions relying more on UK students, like the Open University, have experienced financial setbacks. The Open University recorded an operating deficit of £25m last year, citing a reversal in the growth of student numbers due to the cost of living crisis and post-pandemic student behaviours. The university anticipates a further decline in student numbers this year.

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