David Cameron has pledged to tighten rules on overseas students, shortly after figures showed net migration into the UK rose by half last year.
Overall net migration in the calendar year 2014 was 318,000, up 109,000 from 2013 and “just below the previous peak” of 320,000 in the year ending June 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The Conservatives have an “ambition” to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.
The rise in net migration could increase the government’s willingness to toughen rules for overseas students.
And in a speech at the Home Office shortly after the figures had been published, the prime minister said there would be tougher rules for educational institutions.
Mr Cameron said: “Let me be clear: none of these measures will stop us from rolling out the red carpet for the brightest and the best, the talented workers and brilliant students who are going to help Britain succeed, as I’ve said before: no cap on the number of overseas students who come and study at our universities.
“But, as we promised in our manifesto, we must go further on curbing abuse, shutting more bogus colleges, being more robust with institutions that have high rates of students overstaying and looking to toughen English language requirements for students.”
The Tory manifesto at the general election repositioned the “tens of thousands” net migration target pursued in the last Parliament as “an ambition”. But it gave no indication that overseas students would be removed from goals to net migration, a move called for by Universities UK.
The manifesto said a Tory government would “reform” student visas “with new measures to tackle abuse and reduce the numbers of students overstaying”.
This action would include “clamping down on the number of so-called ‘satellite campuses’ opened in London by universities located elsewhere in the UK, and reviewing the highly trusted sponsor system for student visas”, the manifesto added.
The fresh data released by the Office for National Statistics today does state that an increase in those immigrating for study is “not statistically significant”.
The ONS says immigration for study increased from 177,000 to 193,000 in 2014, while “over the same period visa applications to study at a UK university (main applicants) rose by 0.3% to 168,562”.