The Tories and Ukip's "rather ugly noises" about immigrants are putting off Indian students from coming to Britain, Vince Cable has warned.
In his latest coalition row, the Liberal Democrat business secretary said that Britain was facing an "uphill struggle" to convince Indians to come study in the country, as they have been led to believe they are "not welcome".
Speaking ahead of a trip to India, Cable said he would be making the case during his week-long visit that overseas students are very welcome to come to the UK.
"The area that I'm going to give priority to is trying to rebuild positive feeling and confidence around Indian students coming to Britain," he said. "They have undoubtedly been put off by the rather ugly noises off in the political world, given the impression they're not welcome."
The Tories hit back in response to Cable's "false" comments, insisting that he continued to "talk down" the government's policies to attract the best and brightest students. This is just the latest attack Cable has made on the Tories, after savaging his coalition partners last week as "purveyors of panic, prejudice and pessimism".
Figures published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in April showed that since 2010/11, the number of Indian postgraduate students coming to the UK has fallen by 51%, with those from Pakistan down 49%. In the same period, the number of postgraduates coming from China rose by around 44%.
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The government's moves to tighten up the visa system and shut down ''bogus'' colleges have previously been blamed in some quarters for putting off overseas students from coming to Britain to study.
Cable will also announce two new initiatives during his visit to India, including 396 new scholarships for Indian students at 57 UK universities to study undergraduate and postgraduate courses in subjects such as engineering and a £33 million investment in projects that will boost the UK's business relationship with India.
Indian graduates of UK institutions that have made a "significant impact" upon their return to their home country are also to be offered the chance of an expenses-paid study trip to the UK, linked to their profession, through the Education UK Alumni Awards.
Tory immigration minister James Brokenshire said: "I am sorry that the Business Secretary continues to paint a false picture about the Government's immigration policy and to talk down the excellent UK student visa offer in an important international market for the education sector.
"We continue to welcome the brightest and the best to study at our world-class universities and there is no limit on the number of international students who can come here.
"Our focus remains on a system which bears down on abuse and controls immigration at sustainable levels whilst continuing to attract skilled and talented people to the UK to support our long-term economic plan."
Brokenshire himself caused controversy earlier this year when he said that immigration benefitted "employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour".
In response, the Institute of Directors said his speech was "feeble and pathetic", adding: "It’s not good enough for ministers to blame business. Immigration policy is in the control of politicians."