The UK's continued success in attracting students from overseas this week prompted warnings from two leading higher education opinion formers.
The number of students from outside Europe enrolling in UK universities rose by 2 per cent in the past year, Higher Education Statistics Agency figures show.
The Hesa data for 2005-06 support a Universities UK survey of 58 universities in which more than two thirds reported a rise in numbers of students from outside the European Union for 2006-07. A third of the universities had exceeded institutional targets on international recruitment.
Drummond Bone, president of UUK, said: "Our competitors are increasingly marketing themselves more aggressively, so it is vital that the UK remains among the foremost destinations for international students."
The non-EU overseas student market is worth £1.4 billion a year in fees to UK universities.
Britain's reputation for quality education is key to attracting overseas students, but Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, warned that this could be undermined unless there was more investment. "Class sizes are high, and staff are being forced to provide even more for less," she said.
Thomas Sastry, a researcher at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
"The overall rise at 2 per cent is modest compared to the dramatic increases seen in the early years of the century. Universities are best advised to budget on the basis of very cautious assumptions about the strength of international recruitment even if they are privately hopeful of a strong performance."
The Hesa figures show that the number of students coming to the UK from India and Nigeria in 2005-06 rose by 15.1 and 17.9 per cent respectively compared with the previous year. Recruitment from China fell by 3.7 per cent, while numbers from Hong Kong dropped by 12.4 per cent.
Universities are employing a variety of methods to boost overseas recruitment. Hertfordshire University opened a South-East Asia office in Kuala Lumpur last December. Bradford University, which earns 17.75 per cent of its income from overseas students, said marketing had resulted in a 79 per cent increase in enrolments from Pakistan and a 107 per cent rise from India in 2006.