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Onward think-tank said ‘China’s willingness to use student income as a geopolitical bargaining tool’ put institutions dependent on Chinese students at risk.

UK universities must reduce their reliance on Chinese students, a right-wing think tank has said.

According to a report by Onward, in 2018-19 more full-time places at universities went to Chinese students than from six UK regions: the South West, Yorkshire, East Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland or the North East.

Chinese students now make up more than a fifth of total fee income at 16 universities, with Glasgow, Liverpool and Sheffield all relying on China for 28 per cent of fee income.

The think-tank warned that “reduced international travel and China’s willingness to use student income as a geopolitical bargaining tool put this at risk”.

‘Boost resilience’

And it claimed that the growth of overseas students had “crowded out” British students at some institutions, with non-UK students now making up the majority of fee income at universities in the prestigious Russell Group.

It has called for a cap on the number of students each university can recruit from a single country to “boost resilience”, and a rule that universities can only grow the number of overseas places if they boost places for UK school-leavers too.

The Russell Group said 77 per cent of its students were from the UK.

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the group, said: “Russell Group universities have grown UK student numbers alongside international numbers, and home students continue to make up over three quarters of our undergraduates.”

“We will continue to welcome the most talented students and staff regardless of nationality and are working with the government to maintain our standing as a globally attractive destination for students from the widest range of countries,” he added.

Growing tensions

Earlier this month the former universities minister Jo Johnson said it was “unfortunate” that Chinese students had become “caught up” in tensions between the two countries relating to the future of Hong Kong and the role of Huawei in Britain’s 5G network.

Mr Johnson said: “We should welcome the fact that there is a large number of Chinese students wanting to come to the UK for a high quality education.

“They enrich the learning environment for domestic students… they make viable through the money they bring in, courses that wouldn’t otherwise be offered.”

He said it was “absolutely essential” that universities combated “Sinophobia” and “properly integrated” Chinese students, while also making clear that “academic freedom is absolutely not for negotiation”.

Mr Johnson also said that to tackle international challenges like climate change, “we’re going to need to collaborate with China in research – of course with our eyes open when it comes to national security”.

Source: Universities urged to reduce reliance on Chinese students amid growing tensions between UK and China (