Leading university vice chancellors have warned they may be forced to close science and engineering courses unless the Government drops plans to limit UK visas for foreign students.
An alliance of vice chancellors from 16 universities is urging Home Secretary Theresa May to abandon proposals to reduce immigration by restricting visas issued to foreign students and raising language requirements.
In a letter to the Observer, the vice-chancellors express their “profound concern” at the proposals, arguing they would have a devastating effect on universities' incomes and ability to run the best courses for British, as well as overseas students.
They said international students coming to universities contribute over £5 billion each year to the UK economy through tuition fees and off-campus expenditure.
“Reductions in student numbers will lead to reductions in income and jobs.
“Without international students, many university courses, particularly science and engineering courses, may no longer be viable. This will in turn reduce the courses available to UK students.”
They also said that international students bring “extensive cultural and political benefits to the UK”.
“When they return to their countries at the end of their studies, they become cultural and economic ambassadors for the UK.
“At a time of financial austerity, this issue is of immeasurable importance to the UK,” the vice chancellors said.
The proposals would affect students from outside the EU applying for visas under what is known as tier four of the points-based system.
These accounted for two-thirds of the 273,000 visas issued to students in 2009.
A Home Office spokeswoman said that “any criticism can only be based on speculation as no decisions have yet been made on the changes to the student visa route”.
“However, universities that are confident in the product they have to offer genuine students should have nothing to fear from policies that root out abuses in the student visa system,” the spokeswoman said