UK universities deny favouring overseas selection
UK universities have rejected claims that home students are being displaced by potentially more lucrative overseas students with lower grades.
Universities UK says UK institutions are recruiting the maximum number of home students allowed by government.
A report in the Daily Telegraph claims that students from China are being offered places at UK universities despite having lower A-level grades.
Students from outside the EU can be charged unlimited fees by universities.
From this autumn, students living in England face fees of up to £9,000.
Telegraph reporters filmed staff at an agency in China saying it could help a student get into certain UK universities with three C or B grades at A-level - below the entry requirement for most leading UK institutions.
It said the agency represented more than 20 British universities.
There are no limits on the number of non-EU students that universities can recruit.
Universities mentioned in the report say they are investigating the claims, but insist that they aim to recruit the brightest students.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "International students do not, and cannot, displace home student places. UK student places are capped by government. Recruitment of international students operates entirely outside these domestic limits."
Universities UK said universities set entry requirements for courses, but these could be relaxed in certain circumstances - for both home and overseas students - for example, if a student showed potential to succeed on the course.
"Recruiting students without the academic ability to complete the course is not in universities' interests as it risks compromising their reputation, causes significant additional work in terms of supporting potentially poorly performing students," Ms Dandridge added.
Head teachers from some independent schools with pupils from aboard are quoted by the Telegraph saying it is tougher for British students to get in top universities than overseas students.
Immigration rules around overseas students have been tightened recently, as the government tries to lower net migration.
Universities rely on the income from overseas students. While students from the European Union have to be charged the same as local students, those from outside the EU can be charged higher fees.
Numbers of students from outside the EU have been growing in recent years, as the international market in university education has grown.
Last year there were 134,000 students from outside the EU enrolled on courses at British universities - compared with 103,000 in 2007.
The university sector has been warning that there is a risk that the tougher immigration standards for students mean Britain will be seen as not welcoming overseas students.
Adrian Bailey, a Labour MP and chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, said: "It is foreign students bringing money in, that are financing and underpinning courses to keep them available for British students."