Mr Johnson, delivering his first speech as universities and science minister at the British Council’s Going Global conference for international education leaders in London, sought to give a message about the economic and social value brought to the UK by international students.
However, he also warned that the welcome was only for “genuine students” and announced that Graduate Prospects, the sector's careers advice organisation, has been enlisted by the government to “help us expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance”.
The Conservative manifesto pledges to “reform the student visa system with new measures to tackle abuse”.
And the party is committed to continue its goal of reducing net migration into the UK to the “tens of thousands”, although this is now reframed as an “ambition” rather than a target.
Universities have previously warned that negative impacts from the Conservatives’ drive to reduce net migration is harming their recruitment of international students, calling for students to be removed from net migration figures.
Mr Johnson said: “The UK of course values international students who come to this country…We recognise that competition for the brightest and best students from other countries is intensifying.”
He added: “We will continue to ensure that our excellent education system remains a magnet for brilliant minds.”
Discussing the benefits to the UK brought by international students, he cited their contribution “to our research capacity” and to the £3.9 billion they bring in in tuition fees. He also said that non-European Union students “stimulate demand for courses where domestic demand alone can be insufficient to sustain them”, adding that in particular “they help us maintain our first-class STEM provision”.
And Mr Johnson continued: “Today’s international students are tomorrow’s world leaders. They take friendships and loyalties home with them that later become trade links, cultural bonds and diplomatic ties.”
The minister also said it was “right that we have reformed the student visa system to ensure that students who are not genuine cannot abuse the system. And we will take proportionate action to deal with overstaying wherever our new system of exit checks shows it to be an issue.”
However, Mr Johnson said he was “concerned that some feel the UK does not welcome students as warmly as we once did and that there has been a decline of student numbers from some of our key partners, most notably India”.
Mr Johnson, who lived in India while working as a journalist for the Financial Times, added: “It is a personal aim of mine to overcome misconceptions about the UK in such important countries.”
The minister continued: “We will engage and explain. We will make clear that there is no cap on the number of students who can come to study in the UK and no intention to introduce one.
“Nor is there any cap on the number of former students who can stay on to work – as long as they have a graduate job.”
He added: “Across all our international education activity, we have an ambition to grow.”