More than one in five overseas student applicants are abusing the UK visa system, according to a government survey.
The Home Office survey of more than 3,000 international students who had applied for visas to study at 18 sample UK institutions between 2001 and 2003 found evidence of forged documentation, false identities, bogus references and sponsors, visa recycling, bribery and students disappearing after arrival in the UK.
The Home Office and UK Visas, which runs the visa service, argue that a fee rise from £35 to £80 this summer is needed to cover the costs of combating the abuse.
The hike has angered vice-chancellors and college heads who say that a higher charge will make it harder for UK institutions to compete internationally for students by sending out a message to "stay away from rip-off Britain".
Bob Boucher, Sheffield University vice-chancellor and chair of University UK's international strategy group, said that recent Home Office policies, including big increases in visa extension charges and proposals to scrap appeals against visa refusals, were seen as "indicators of the now clearly unwelcoming attitude of the UK Government to international students".
A summary of the Home Office findings, plus a focus on abuse in China along with examples of visa scams operated by bogus students and agents in 13 countries, were sent to university and college officials attending a seminar to debate the issue last Tuesday.
Ministers insisted at the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office seminar that fee rises were genuinely necessary. Tony McNulty, Minister of State for Immigration, said: "This is not a quick and nasty raid by the Home Office to get more fees."
David Triesman, the Minister for Entry Clearance, said policing the system was an increasingly complex and expensive business.
"Samples have been taken in a number of countries, and in some cases we found about 60 per cent of documents provided by students were problematic," he said.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has told The Times Higher the visa system has to pay for itself.