Delighted that new stringent student visa rules were "beginning to bite", the UK Home Office on Wednesday said a further tightening of the system was on the cards from April even as British universities said the rules were damaging reputation abroad.
Immigration minister Damian Green expressed satisfaction that the "changes we have made are beginning to bite", and announced that further measures to tighten the student visa regime were due in April 2012.
The changes from April will include the closure of the post-study work visa, which allows students from India and elsewhere to work in the UK for two years after completing their course of study. From April, those wishing to stay and work will need to apply under the skilled workers visa route. There will also be new time limits on student visas and tougher rules on work placements, the Home Office said.
However, Universities UK, the representative organisation of all British universities, warned the government that Britain could not afford to make the "same costly mistakes" as the US and Australia which curbed overseas students numbers and then dropped the policy when they realised it had seriously damaged the international competitiveness of their higher education sector.
The Home Office said over 11,000 non-EU students could not come to the UK this year after over 450 education providers were barred from sponsoring and enrolling non-EU students because they did not meet the standards of a new inspection regime.
"Too many institutions were offering international students an immigration service rather than an education and too many students have come to the UK with the aim of getting work and bringing over family members. Only first-class education providers should be given licences to sponsor international students," said Green.
"We have curbed the opportunities to work during study and bring in family members. We have also introduced new language requirements to ensure we only attract genuine students whose primary motivation is to study," Green added.
While supporting moves to prevent student visa abuse, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said, "It's important that the UK appears 'open for business' to those individuals who are genuinely committed to coming to the UK to study at one of our highly-regarded universities".
"International students are not economic migrants. They come to the UK to study, and then they leave. The vast majority of international students return home once their studies are completed, and those that do not, need to reapply for a separate visa," she added.
Universities UK has been arguing that international students should not be counted in the net migration figures.
International students, Dandridge said, contributed 'massively', academically and culturally, and contributed over 5 billion pounds annually to the UK economy through tuition fees and off-campus expenditure. "This is a success story for the UK, but there is no shortage of global competition", she said.
Universities UK said that the UK cannot afford to make costly mistakes such as those made previously in the USA and Australia. Ill-thought out cuts in those countries seriously damaged their universities' international competitiveness.