Due to the government lifting the cap on student numbers earlier in the year, many universities have lowered their entry requirements and are offering previously unoffered incentives to students in order to maximise their intake.
The changes (along with allowing for increased student numbers), have also increased the income universities glean from tuition fees. The financial benefits of taking on extra students have therefore changed the rules of engagement for student applicants and universities. The market is now heavily weighted in the favour of students, with universities vying for their attention (within reason), rather than the other way round. The changes have already been felt with the record 409,000 students scheduled to start the new academic year.
Another much less obvious effect of the changes is the attitude universities may now have to non-EU students. The numbers cap only applied to EU students (including Brits) and so prior to its lifting universities were ploughing resource into recruiting non-EU students to top up their intake. The incentive for them to do this has now been removed.
Whilst the EU intake is up 14% this year, the intake of students from Hong Kong (for example) into British universities is down 6%. A British Council spokeswoman in Hong Kong says "This was expected due to the falling number of graduates in the coming year. Even if British universities are recruiting more from the EU, it will not affect recruitment in Asia. Britain remains the leading English-speaking study-abroad destination for Hong Kong students."
The University of Nottingham are similarly positive about the future of non-EU students in the UK. John Quirk, director of Nottingham's International Office says that, "We are taking in more British students but also taking in more from Asia and elsewhere internationally."
Dominic Scott, Chief Executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs is also optimistic adding, "most universities will still wish to recruit as many well qualified students as possible, for their higher fees, for their abilities and as part of their international strategies."
So whilst recruiting non-EU students may not be as much of a priority as it once was, there seems to be little indication that the new rules should hit non-EU numbers all that dramatically.
The main concerns that emerge from the new rules are therefore not to do with the national demographics of students in UK universities, but the standard of applicants. As universities take on more students than ever, entry standards will likely be lat an all time low, and the fear is that if they set them too low, reputations could be damaged in the process.
So with the cap lifted the future looks great for applicants of all nationalities, but for universities, it will be hard to tow the line between long-term reputation and short-term gain.