Foreign students have access to 12 times as many clearing courses as UK students for the University of Glasgow, the Herald can reveal.

Ten days after exam results day in Scotland and two days after A-level results were delivered to the rest of the UK, the University of Glasgow website showed seven undergraduate courses left for British school-leavers to apply to through clearing, while for international prospective students there were 84. 

Clearing is a process which matches applicants to university places yet to be filled, should applicants miss the conditions set for their first-choice university, or have a change of heart on the course they want to study. 

The University of Glasgow says it is “simply not true that students from Scotland or elsewhere in the UK lose out on places to colleagues from overseas at the University of Glasgow.” The number of places the institution can give out to Scottish students is capped by the Scottish Funding Council and individual universities do not have the power to expand these numbers beyond their allocation. However, there is no limit on the number of students who can be accepted from the rest of the UK. 

Student numbers at the University of Glasgow have risen exponentially in recent years, with its population having grown by almost 40% between 2017 and 2022. This growth rate is more than double the average of other UK universities, which on average grew by around 16% during the same period. 

Much of this growth came from international students - the number of undergraduate offers made to this group doubled over the five-year period. FOI data shows the number of undergraduate offers made to international students increased by 153%. 

According to a report by University of Glasgow academic Professor Sarah Armstrong, which drew upon the University of Glasgow’s own data, the institution generated £281.5 million in international tuition fee income in 2022, more than six times the value of income from home students. 

It also claims the University has become “dependent” on international tuition fee income, which Glasgow University responds is “fundamentally untrue.” The University of Glasgow adds that the rise in international student numbers during Covid-19 should not lead to this conclusion; that during the pandemic there were concerns over access to study for students from abroad, and that if it had led to international student numbers falling, the financial sustainability of universities could have been undermined.

These concerns led to Glasgow, like many other universities, implementing a dual start model allowing students to commence their studies at two points in the year. This combined with the fact that student applications and acceptances for World Top 100 universities increased during the pandemic while they dropped in other parts of the sector, meant the number of students enrolling increased significantly, according to the University. It adds that growth suppression mechanisms are limited because offers of a place cannot be withdrawn once made and the numbers of offers are based on historic application to conversion rates. 

The University of Edinburgh was the Scottish institution which made the most money from international student fees during the pandemic, profiting more than half a billion pounds, according to the report. 

Some academics at the University of Glasgow have accused the institution of failing to implement infrastructure to allow staff and students, both international and domestic, to cope with such a rise whilst ensuring academic standards are maintained. 

The total cost of a four-year undergraduate degree at Glasgow University for a student from England is capped at £27,750. By contrast, the same degree for an international student on an Arts or Social Sciences programme would cost £94,080. A Science or Engineering undergraduate degree sets an international student back £111,720. 

Staff at the University of Glasgow have questioned the quality of education being achieved by the rising number of international students, with concerns over English language proficiency and lack of support to acclimatise them to the UK higher education system meaning they are more likely to be caught up in plagiarism or academic misconduct cases.

One staff member, who teaches on the University’s postgraduate courses, said: “We have a situation where academics who are leading experts in their field are spending increasing amounts of time and energy dealing with students who in many cases are not equipped for higher level study and who often arrive with little clue as to what the demands of the programme are.

“Teaching staff on many programmes are overworked and simply do not have time or energy to work on research and teaching that you might expect from a leading European university.”

The Profiting from the Pandemic report claims that many universities have adjusted minimum entry requirements and English language tests for some courses, whilst at the same time entry requirements for Scottish students became more difficult. 

During the pandemic, an English language test run by the popular language learning app Duolingo was accepted as evidence of English language proficiency for many universities across the UK.

At the University of Glasgow, this policy has been revoked, as a spokesperson explained: “The University of Glasgow no longer accepts Duolingo as proof of meeting the English language requirement for international applicants.  

“Duolingo was accepted during the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when it was not possible for the majority of students to attend in-person testing, meaning an online option became necessary.  As the pandemic progressed, our trusted English as a Foreign Language (EFL) suppliers developed their own online robust testing options, and the in-person testing centres re-opened.

“Entry requirements to the University, including EFL, are reviewed on an annual basis. On review of all options available the decision has been taken not to continue with Duolingo.”

In Dr Armstong’s report, she writes: “My personal experience of teaching and working with colleagues teaching high numbers of international students in Scotland is of increasing numbers being referred to plagiarism or having to re-sit and re-submit work.”

The most recent data available pertaining to issues such as plagiarism comes from the year 2020/21. Although that year there were three times as many UK students enrolled at the University of Glasgow as Chinese, students from China made up almost half of all academic misconduct referrals, as the nationality with the most reported cases.

The University of Glasgow takes a ‘two-pronged approach’ to tackling academic misconduct, through assessment redesign and improving students understanding of good academic practice, and says it takes all issues of academic misconduct extremely seriously.

The link is also being made between more students and more work for academics, many of whom have carried out multiple periods of strike action in recent years and are currently taking part in a marking and assessment boycott which has seen students at universities across the UK graduating without dissertations being marked and no final degree classification. Staff being overworked is one of the University and College Union (UCU)’s main grievances. 

Mary Senior, who is the UCU’s Scotland official, said: “It is good news that students from across the world want to study in Scotland’s universities. International students contribute enormously to the cultural and learning environment for everyone. 

“But increasing student numbers must be matched by increases in staffing, or the already unsafe workloads of university workers just become even more impossible, and student contact time with their lecturers is reduced. 

“We all know that cuts in government funding for Scottish domiciled students is resulting in some universities recruiting more and more fee-paying international students. But we’re getting to an unsustainable position if overseas students' fees need to subsidise the system, and the huge increase in student numbers is leaving staff overworked and exhausted.”

The wider impact on students of the increasing population on campus led the University of Glasgow’s Student Representative Council (SRC) to last year demand a cap on student numbers until the year 2027. While this central demand was rejected by the University, it did commit to a strategy of zero growth for the upcoming academic year. 

The student body pointed to issues such as an accommodation crisis which saw homeless students housed in Premier Inn hotels last year as linked to the increase in student numbers, as well as the issue of on campus space which saw the University hire out the Grosvenor Picture House on Ashton Lane to give classes in a cinema, while politics students sat on wooden pews with no Wi-Fi in the Wellington Church for lectures. 

Read more: UK threatens success of Scots unis at attracting foreign students

A University of Glasgow spokesperson said: “The University of Glasgow is a proudly international institution and we value the presence and contribution of students from all around the world. We believe that providing opportunities for our students to share and learn from different cultures not only enriches their academic experience but makes them well-rounded graduates and global citizens.

“All international students who require a visa to study in the UK must meet the same assessment of language proficiency as set by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). The University offers a range of courses to support students reaching the necessary language skills both prior to, and during, their academic studies with us.

“As well as language assistance, the University offers international students a host of dedicated services, from practical and academic advice and guidance, to health and well-being support, from pre-departure right through to graduation and beyond. The University has a Student Experience Strategy that specifically focuses on the experience of international students along with diversity and inclusion and is investing substantially in delivering this.

“International students contribute enormously to life on campus as well as providing cultural, societal and economic benefits to Glasgow, Scotland and the UK.”