London: A key organisation representing all British universities on Wednesday warned the David Cameron government that new stringent visa rules for students from India and other non-EU countries were damaging the country's reputation abroad.

Universities UK, the representative organisation of all British universities, on Wednesday said Britain could not afford to make the 'same costly mistakes' as the US and Australia which curbed overseas students numbers and then dropped the policy when they realised it had seriously damaged the international competitiveness of their higher education sector.

Universities UK on Wednesday responded to a Home Office announcement that due to tough new rules to curb visa abuse, nearly 11,000 non-EU students had been prevented from coming to the UK when over 470 colleges were barred in the last six months from enrolling and sponsoring non-EU students.

While supporting moves to prevent student visa abuse, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said, "It's important that the UK appears 'open for business' to those individuals who are genuinely committed to coming to the UK to study at one of our highly-regarded universities".

She added: "International students are not economic migrants. They come to the UK to study, and then they leave. The vast majority of international students return home once their studies are completed, and those that do not, need to reapply for a separate visa".

Universities UK has been arguing that international students should not be counted in the net migration figures.

International students, Dandridge said, contributed 'massively', academically and culturally, and contributed over 5 billion pounds annually to the UK economy through tuition fees and off-campus expenditure.

She said: "This is a success story for the UK, but there is no shortage of global competition".

Universities UK said that the UK cannot afford to make costly mistakes such as those made previously in the USA and Australia.

Ill-thought out cuts in those countries seriously damaged their universities' international competitiveness.

The Home Office said more than 400 colleges lost had their right to recruit international students because they could not meet the standards of a new inspection regime.

It added that new inspection standards were designed to ensure that genuine international students received the highest quality education.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said, "Widespread abuse of the student visa system has gone on for too long and the changes we have made are beginning to bite. Too many students have come to the UK with the aim of getting work and bringing over family members."

Agencies