Foreign students are being turned off by coming to the UK to study by the "torrid" debate about immigration, Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned.
Speaking at a graduate conference in London, Mr Cable said overseas students had become caught up in the "public panic" over constant warnings about "uncontrolled mass immigration".
Mr Cable said it was "absurd" to welcome a drop in the number of students coming to the UK given the economic contribution they make to Britain.
He said that the "politics of identity" which worried about immigration and the economic need for open markets were forces "pulling in opposite directions".
The debate about overseas students was "caught up in this torrid and emotional argument about immigration", said Mr Cable.
He added that the government's campaign to prevent abuse of student visas had created a worrying "perception", that the UK was an unwelcome place for foreign students. Mr Cable said this perception was particularly acute in India, evidence by the fact that fewer students are now coming over from the sub-continent.
University leaders have campaigned for overseas student numbers to be considered separately from the headline figures for migration, but the government has repeatedly rejected this argument.
London Mayor Boris Johnson also addressed the conference saying that overseas students were an important source of income, worth £870m in tuition fees in London alone.
He urged UK universities to be "even bolder" in promoting their courses around the world.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS