London: The British Home Office was considering cutting international student numbers at Britain's universities by nearly half, media reported on Monday.
The threat was being greeted with dismay by university heads, who say some good overseas applicants were already being refused visas on spurious grounds.
A vice-chancellor at one Britain's university, who did not wish to be named, said that the judgments being made by Britain Visas and Immigration have changed significantly in the past few months. Indian students, in particular, seem to be having a tougher time, reported the Guardian.
"They are telling some students there is exactly the same quality of course available in India so why are you coming here," another vice-chancellor said. "That is outrageous."
In October, Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd said tougher rules would be brought in for student visas, but the cutbacks could be far more severe than expected, senior university sources said.
The university sources said that they had seen plans for dramatic immigration cuts, including one proposal to cut international student numbers to 170,000 from 300,000 per year.
However, the government has dismissed claims that other plans suggest cutbacks of more than two-thirds.
The head of one leading university denounced the potential scale of the cuts as "insane", adding: "Politics is trumping economics".
Sir Keith Burnett of Sheffield University, one of the vice-chancellors who accompanied Theresa May on a recent trade delegation to India, said: "If we genuinely want to be open to the world and a global leader in free trade, we can only do so by welcoming talent."
"...This cannot simply be our own assessment. International students need to feel welcome and that accessing Britain to study and for a period of work experience is easy. Even a hint that students are unwelcome and they will go elsewhere," Burnett added.
He said other countries, including Australia and Canada, are already benefiting from the government's "deeply damaging" current position, by welcoming excellent international students who will go on to secure leading jobs and be lasting allies of their countries.
Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, said: "The Home Office seems to have decided that cutting international students is the only way of delivering the manifesto target of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands. But it does not address people's concerns about immigration."
"The problems people are seeing on the ground are certainly not caused by international university students or staff," he said.
In her party conference speech, Rudd said the government wanted to help "the best universities -- and those that stick to the rules -- to attract the best talent, while looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses".
International students bring more than £10.7 billion ($13.53) to Britian's economy, according to Universities UK, the vice-chancellors' umbrella group.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2016 22:50:53 IST