Is the increase in average international fees higher than usual? – Examining the Evidence

An article (Average overseas fee for UK master’s rises by almost £1K) recently published in the THE analysed the results of a survey conducted by the Complete University Guide, highlighting the seemingly large increase in tuition fees for master’s programmes in 2020/21 by around 6.5%. The article suggested this policy was to help UK universities offset the loss of international student numbers due to the pandemic. However, our data tells a different story! The Knowledge Partnership’s Tuition Fees Benchmarking Tool collects the published fees (both International and UK/EU) for alluniversity courses in the UK at both undergraduate and postgraduate taught level and as such can provide a more nuanced view of the trends in fees. Examining the data in the Fees Benchmarking Tool shows that international fees for classroom- and lab-based courses have increased by around 5% each year since 2017/18, so the increase in 2020/21 was not unusual, which means that fees at universities have not increased in 2020/21 by any more than in previous years.


The timing for fees setting also needs to be taken into account when interpreting these results, especially in the current climate. The THE article points out the fees for 2020/21 would have been decided before the pandemic hit the UK. In our experience most universities publish their fees between September and January for the following academic year, which means the decision making process around this happens much earlier in spring; so the fees for 2020/21 would have been set in 2019, up to a year before the pandemic when there was no indication that the 2020/21 academic year would be any different to 2019/20.

The fees setting process for 2021/22 will have been taking place during lockdown so it will be interesting to see whether or not universities choose to increase fees by more than inflation or to hold their fees or decrease their fees as THE are reporting is happening in the US.

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but comparing changes in overall average fees each year disguises the vastly different fees charged across university types and subject areas. Setting fees is both an art and a science, but it does help to have all the data!

TKP can help with advice and consultancy around setting fees so please take a look at our fees benchmarking tool and do get in touch if you would like more information.