Think tank the IPPR has suggested that the government should remove the majority of students from its UK immigration figures.
The think tank stated that only students who remain in the country permanently should be included in the net migration figures.
It argued that the current method of measuring student migration flows provides an incentive for the government to cut student numbers unfairly, when in reality only 15 per cent of students remain in the country on a permanent basis and contribute to long-term net migration.
The government has pledged to lower net migration from its current level of over 200,000 a year to just "tens of thousands" by the time the next general election comes around. Cutting student UK visas is likely to play a strong role in this, but the IPPR is concerned that the government is using students to manipulate the figures when their impact on the job market is in fact minimal.
There is the added issue of economic contributions made to the UK by overseas students in the form of fees paid to universities and for accommodation. This could be as much as £2-3 billion a year, making foreign students an important economic stimulant for the education sector in particular.
Sarah Mulley, IPPR Associate Director, commented: "The Government need to take international students out of the immigration 'numbers game', which is damaging our universities and colleges, our economy and our international standing.
"This would enable Ministers to move back to a policy that supports rather than penalises one of the UK’s most important industries and sources of both future growth and global influence, without in any way hampering its stated objectives of controlling long-term net migration and continuing to target abuse of the student visa system."