The British Council says the UK is on course to achieve the prime minister's target for recruitment of overseas students after latest figures revealed a 14.2 per cent rise in the number of applications from outside the European Union.
But international student affairs watchdogs have warned that the UK's position in the international market could be damaged by government proposals for higher education that they say risk tarnishing the sector's reputation for high quality.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the number of applications for higher education places received from overseas by April was 28,405, compared with 24,863 received by April last year.
The British Council said the figures, combined with significant potential gains in key markets abroad, were "highly encouraging". It said it now expected that the target of recruiting an additional 50,000 overseas higher education students by 2005 would be achieved.
There has been a substantial rise in the number of applications from Arab nations and predominantly Muslim countries such as Malaysia, despite the Iraq war. Applications from Saudi Arabia have increased by 102 per cent, and the number of students applying from the United Arab Emirates rose by 48 per cent.
Chinese applications are up 44 per cent, and there has been a 34 per cent increase in the number of applications from Malaysia.
However, higher education white paper plans to increase fees and selectivity in research funding risk damaging quality and therefore overseas recruitment, the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs said this week.
* In its response to the white paper, Ukcosa says higher fees may put students off postgraduate study. It says the paper shows little awareness of the importance of the international dimension of higher education.
Applicants who have a choice of university places are turning down offers to take their chances at more prestigious institutions, it emerged this week, writes Alison Goddard.
Under the new Ucas Extra scheme, prospective students can approach universities with unfilled places in an early version of clearing.
The scheme is intended for students who have no offers, but some students are rejecting offers to aim for a more prestigious place.