The vice-chancellor of a leading university has warned that the government's clampdown on UK immigration could cost millions of pounds in lost revenue from overseas students.
Sir Steve Smith of the University of Exeter claimed that the government is putting the continued growth in numbers and income from foreign students at risk by refusing to exempt them from its UK immigration targets.
He highlighted the fact that foreign students pay in the region of £10,000 a year in fees alone, bringing in huge amounts of income for universities. Their additional expenditure on accommodation and living expenses can be just as high again, marking out their value for areas of the country that are particularly reliant on higher education as an industry.
The vice-chancellor remarked: "International students are the country's seventh largest export industry; they are worth just over £8 billion a year to the UK.
"All the predictions are for massive increases in the number of students who want to come to the UK, and the South West could certainly take more."
He compared the situation to alternative export industries, such as cars, claiming that the government would be very much behind the support of this kind of business. However, when it comes to immigration it is still seen as a "toxic subject".
The government is looking to lower the net migration figure to under 100,000, from the current level of 216,000. Official sources are including temporary student migrants in this figure; something Sir Steve is not alone in opposing.
There are two main areas of concern regarding the inclusion of foreign students in the UK immigration figures. Firstly, there is the direct impact in terms of the lack of income for universities and the supporting industries that comes from a reduction in overseas students. But there is a secondary matter of the message that the strict regulations sends - the idea that Britain is not open for business – which has the potential to be significantly more damaging in the long-term.