Britain could lose up to £2 billion a year if the government takes a tougher stance on international student numbers after the UK leaves the EU, new research has found.
The report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) reveals that while charging EU students higher tuition fees following Brexit would increase university revenue, this would be wiped out by a crackdown on student visas.
The research has led to further demands that overseas students should be removed from net migration figures.
“Policymakers can either push our higher education institutions towards the icebergs or help them reach the relative safety of the open seas,” HEPI director Nick Hillman said.
“Were the Home Office to conduct yet another crackdown on international students, then the UK could lose out on £2 billion a year just when we need to show we are open for business like never before,” he added.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd faced strong criticism last year after she outlined plans to make it tougher for foreign students to study in the UK.
Under her proposed multi-tiered visa system, an international student’s chance to study in the UK would be tied to the quality of university and course they were applying for.
In December, the Guardian revealed that the Home Office had modelled plans to slash overseas student figures from 300,000 to 170,000 a year. The government said other claims it wanted to cut annual numbers to 100,000 were “categorically untrue”.
HEPI estimates that while a crackdown on foreign students could cost universities £463 million a year in tuition fees, the UK economy would also suffer an annual loss of £604 million in rent, food and other expenses.
A further £928 million a year would be lost due to the “detrimental impact on universities’ supply chains”, the report reads, “known as the indirect and induced effects.”
The report comes a day after leading academics warned MPs that hard Brexit could be the “biggest disaster in years” for universities.
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “While the debates continue about what the impact of Brexit may be, we need to send a clear message to the rest of the world that our universities welcome international staff and students.
“The best and easiest way to do that is to guarantee the thousands of EU staff working in our universities the right to stay in the UK and to remove international students from net migration figures.”
A Department for Education spokesperson told the Huffington Post UK: “EU and international students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our higher education sector and we want that to continue.
“The UK has a long established system that supports and attracts the brightest minds, at all stages of their career, and the government will seek to secure the best deal for universities and their staff when negotiations for exiting the EU begin.
“The UK remains one of the most popular destinations for students globally and we want this to continue, which is why there are no plans to cap the number of international students who can come to study in the UK.”