"Boneheaded" government immigration policy is jeopardising the higher education sector by deterring international students from UK study, former foreign secretary David Miliband has said.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to under 100,000 by the next general election. Although the Office for National Statistics has announced it will publish disaggregated net migration figures that do not include international students, they will still be included in the overall numbers against which this target is measured.
Mr Miliband said that the government was "pursuing this political slogan of reducing immigration to tens of thousands" at the expense of developing a "sensible" immigration policy.
"What I feel passionately about is the overall policy of restricting visas for students, curtailing the rights of students to work after they complete university, and the economic, social and educational cost to the country," he told Times Higher Education after addressing students during an "in conversation" event at the University of Reading last week.
"You've got to recognise that higher education is one of our biggest assets, students from abroad are part of the game, and that by curtailing the attractiveness of British higher education, we're doing great injury to our own future."
Failure to develop a policy that encourages non-European Union students to study in the UK meant that the country was missing out on billions of pounds in potential revenue, he said. "Every university I visit tells me that Britain is handing students over to American, Australian, even German universities at a cost to our own society as well as our own educational institutions."
Mr Miliband has been touring UK universities in a bid both to engage students in political discussion and promote the Labour Party among younger voters. He has also been campaigning for employers to ensure that they pay the "living wage", which stands at £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 for the rest of the UK, as opposed to the current minimum wage of £6.19.
He described implementation of the living wage as a "challenge" for some universities, pointing out that catering and cleaning staff do not always receive it. But he praised some "notable successes", including adoption of the policy at the University of Manchester and Goldsmiths, University of London, and called on the sector to "show leadership" on fair pay.
Mr Miliband - who narrowly lost out to his brother Ed in the race to become Labour leader in 2010 - added that he had visited around 30 universities in the past 12 months.
He said: "I've tried to make my contribution to not just spreading the Labour message but also trying to explain to people why and how politics can make a difference."