The UK's immigration minister has stuck to his guns over a controversial student immigration policy which university heads warn will cripple the sector.
Damian Green insisted students coming to the UK for more than a year "are not visitors" and must therefore be counted in net immigration figures.
"There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them. But we are determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.
"The independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for producing net migration statistics according to the internationally agreed definition of a migrant which is someone entering the country for more than a year. Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students.”
A key part in the coalition's scheme to reduce net migration is restricting the number of student visas. Applicants must also be able to speak English before they move and foreign students are not allowed to remain in the UK without the offer of a "skilled job".
But a letter to David Cameron which has attracted signatures from almost 70 university heads and officials - including Sir Menzies Campbell - urged the government to exclude foreign students from net immigration figures.
A report published earlier this month claimed British universities stood to lose up to £7m as a result of the government's new policy.
Universities UK predicted the UK economy could earn £17bn from international students by 2025. The overseas pupils currently contribute £5bn a year.
"There are significant economic benefits and growth in this area and we believe removing international students from net migration figures, which is what other countries are doing, will send very positive signals around the globe," Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK said.
"Attracting overseas students is "exactly the type of activity the government should be supporting in these difficult economic times."
Daniel Stevens, a national executive council member for the NUS told the Huffington Post UK the visa application changes which the government have introducted to bring net immigration figures down are "completely unfair".
"You need a large amount in your bank account to be able to study here," he said. "But it shouldn't be a system based on money. Some institutions do treat international students as cash cows."
"I know of a lot of students who have said they've told their friends not to come here. Next year the UK will get hammered completely."
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