OVERSEAS students are being threatened with deportation if they fall behind with tuition fee payments, according to lecturers.

The annual congress of the UCU union, which represents lecturers and support staff, heard the practice was an example of Scottish universities treating international students as “cash cows”.

While tuition fees at Scottish universities are free for Scots, international student can pay double or even three times the sums given to institutions by the Scottish Government for the same education.

Dr Marion Hersh, from the UCU’s Glasgow University branch, said some Nigerian students had to leave their courses last year after a collapse in the currency in their home country.

She said: “This resulted in a shortfall and some of them returned home with the threat of deportation hanging in the air.

“There are horrendous fees for international students and I don’t think that universities always give them what they need in return for that or feel some sort of loyalty to the student when they run into financial difficulties.

“Internationalism is at the heart of universities and we benefit enormously from it because of the ideas they bring in, the opportunities for exchange and the creativity they bring which we would not otherwise have.

“It is vital international students are given much more support because they are seen as cash cows bringing in money. The other value they bring is not always recognised.”

The UCU congress in Clydebank passed a motion condemning the “exclusion and deportation” of international students unable to pay their full fees.

The union also agreed to work with student body NUS Scotland to obtain data on the number of international students “excluded, deported or voluntarily repatriated” due to fee shortfalls.

The UCU also called for an agreement to be negotiated with universities to “prevent the exclusion and deportation of international students on grounds of fees”.

Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland president, said the body recognised the “considerable barriers” international students faced.

He said: “There are barriers trying to settle and study in Scotland, including securing affordable accommodation, finding sustainable income, the exorbitant and rising cost of tuition and the looming threat of deportation if they fall on hard times.

“We are happy to work with the UCU to discover how many students are falling through the cracks.”