International students at the University of Edinburgh have voiced their anger that despite paying £25,000 tuition fees – twice that of UK students – many of them still do not know whether they will leave with a proper classified degree.

They described their past year at the university as one of University and College Union strikes and marking boycotts, which left them “scared”, “anxious” and “disappointed”.

Sanyukta Singh, from India, is working towards an MSC in education at Moray House, University of Edinburgh. As an international student, she pays £25,000 tuition fee, for which she had to take out a student grant in India, and works part-time to pay her living expenses.

“Indian and Chinese students," she said, "are the largest cohort of international students in the UK right now. There have been studies that show how the UK economy has profited just because international students have chosen to study in this country – and the service they are receiving, I reckon, isn’t up to the mark.”

Analysis by London Economics has shown that between the academic years 2018-19 and 2012-22, the total economic gains to the UK from international students increased by 34% – and that international students put in nearly ten times more to the economy than they take out.

Ms. Singh learned of the university strike while she was in the first semester.  During the second semester, one of her classes was cancelled, and the same course was later affected by the UCU marking and assessment boycott.

She said: “The teachers and programme director released a statement which gave us a bit of information about why they’re not marking and what they’re demanding, but when it comes to the university management, there wasn’t any solution given to us.”

READ MORE: Lecturers are villains of exam marking boycott – or are they?

READ MORE: Less than 3% of students affected by university marking boycott, UCEA says

Ms. Singh is particularly frustrated at the lack of responsibility taken by the University management. “I was very disappointed in the university. Given the amount of tuition fees I am paying, I don’t think I’m getting the service. If they’re selling education as a product, at least it has to be of quality.”

Echoing many of these feelings were Chinese students, Joyce and Iris (surnames withheld), classmates on a translation programme whose make-up is 80% overseas students, mostly from China and Europe.

Joyce said: “We pay £25,300 per year to study here and that's more than twice what's paid by UK students, plus a huge amount of living expense.”

She recalled that during the first semester, some classes were replaced by online prerecorded lessons, which were clearly time-marked 2021, and recorded during the pandemic.

The Herald: Joyce, a postgraduate student from China, studying at the University of Edinburgh

Joyce, a postgraduate student from China, studying at the University of Edinburgh

In the second semester, following a further strike, they received an email notifying them of the marking boycott. “There was no explanation," Joyce recalled. "Just an email saying that they were not giving out the marks and research feedback.”

For them, the worst impact was that one of their unmarked assignments was the research proposal on which their dissertation would be based – which meant that they were given little direction for that key piece of work.

Joyce said: "We’re feeling like we’re caught in the middle and pushed about from one part to another. We were told, ‘It’s all about the management. You should write emails to them.’ But when we send these emails none of us is getting any feedback from the management.”

Among their fears was that they would not have had their degree verified by the time they returned to China and would not be able to apply for accreditation in their home country, on the basis of a degree described merely as “qualified”.

She also expressed concern about how this will impact her career progression when she returns to China. “It’s the difference between, when I get back, having wasted this year, or having earned myself a postgraduate degree. And it’s a very competitive working market in China. You can't take time off. People will say, what were you doing?”

Her classmate, Iris, expressed similar concerns. “I don’t know if they postpone the matter until we return to our countries. Once we leave Edinburgh, we have limited communication channels with the university and our voice may carry less weight. I’m afraid of this. I feel very disappointed with the efficiency of this university.”

The Herald: Iris,  a postgraduate student from China, studying at the University of Edinburgh

Iris,  a postgraduate student from China, studying at the University of Edinburgh

Supporting some of these students in their bid to get their voices heard was PhD scholar Pavithra Sarma, not herself an international student but a British citizen having moved to the UK 17 years ago and applied for citizenship some years after.

She emphasised that the ordeal was not the responsibility of the striking staff, but the management. “They should have been the ones to clarify things, instead of pitting us against the staff, which they tried to do earlier on. It’s the management that is the problem; the people who are still lining their pockets, principal Peter Mathieson who has had a £43,000 pay rise while staff struggle.”

"The management has a fiscal duty of care to us, the students, which they have contravened. They have a public sector equality duty towards us, the students, which they have contravened. All of this falls under the Equality Act 2010 and there are several breaches here.”

“This is racial capitalism,” she added. “The university has decided that international students have to pay almost three times the amount of what you would as a UK student. As a student, you come here knowing that. In Asia, there is a tendency to suggest that we all go abroad to get a degree - only then are we recognised within our various societies. All of this is a product of colonialism and imperialism, which is not really addressed in our own countries.”

READ MORE: University of Edinburgh: Staff raise standards and equality fears

Many of the students expressed sympathy for the staff, struggling with living costs, and anger at management. Chinese postgraduate student, Bang, described the issue as one of “consumer or human rights”.

“We did what we have to do on time, we should get the return on time. I’ve paid the tuition fee. I’ve spent £25,000. I finished the courses and assignments. I handed things in on time. So, in Asian culture, the common sense would be I ought to have my marks and a degree on time. I did not do anything wrong. I cannot understand.”

Another student described her initial shock at the way they were treated. “When I first heard about this striking, I had a feeling of being betrayed by my beloved teacher. I felt that I was forced to join a battlefield where I don’t know how to fight.”

“But now I quite understand them because I know that because of inflation and because they are working so hard, it’s quite hard for them to lead a decent life. I now feel international students shouldn’t be sacrificed during this fight. And the teachers also should get what they deserve.”


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Some students also expressed the impact of the experience on their mental health and well-being – and the lack of support that was given to help them through it.

Sanyukta Singh, observed, “I signed up for the mental health and wellbeing support that the university offers, but they said that it will only be four sessions for 45 minutes for four weeks. I was shocked that to get into that session the waiting list was six weeks. This is for an international student paying £25,000.”

The University of Edinburgh declined to comment but directed to a statement on its website. It included the following: “We recognise the significant impact this is having on our students’ lives and future plans and we share their disappointment at being caught in the crossfire of this national dispute.

"We are acutely aware that delays associated with the boycott are a major source of anxiety for our students, and we are deeply sorry about the continued uncertainty they face over their futures."

It also said:  “For international students, the Home Office has confirmed that students will be able to apply to extend their student visa permission from within the UK whilst they wait for their results."