The Government must push ahead with plans to attract more Chinese students to the UK, where numbers are already at record levels, argues Ukcosa, the council for international education.
The number of Chinese students in the UK rose by nearly 36 per cent between 2002-03 and 2003-04, according to figures released this week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The total number of Chinese nationals studying in the UK stood at 47,740 in 2003-04.
But Ukcosa wants the Government to redouble its recruitment efforts in China and, in particular, to flesh out two initiatives announced this year by Chancellor Gordon Brown.
During a visit to China in February, Mr Brown said that the Government had decided to allow Chinese students to stay in the UK to work for a year after they had graduated. He also said that the Government was preparing to extend scholarship schemes for Chinese students.
Ukcosa said this week that while it welcomed Mr Brown's initial announcements, it was concerned that the Treasury, the Department for Education and Skills or the Home Office had not released any further details.
It said there were fears that the initiative might be held up or could fall by the wayside because of the imminent general election.
Dominic Scott, chief executive of Ukcosa, said it was hoped that the Chancellor's scheme could be extended to all international students as part of a second phase of the Prime Minister's Initiative to make the UK a more attractive study destination.
Mr Scott said: "Many have argued for some time that if we could offer international students both training and access to professional work experience in the UK, it could hugely boost the Prime Minister's Initiative at virtually no cost. Clearly, the Chancellor has found a way to do this.
"What we would like now is, first, some clear guidance on how this will operate and confirmation of a start date. Second, we would like confirmation that this will be opened to others, as clearly we cannot discriminate between or against particular countries."
The Treasury said this week that the Home Office would lead on Mr Brown's scheme as part of a five-year strategy for asylum and immigration, adding that further details were imminent.
The Hesa data released this week also show continued growth in the number of students from India, the UK's second largest source of international students after China. In 2003-04, the US overtook Malaysia as the UK's third biggest supplier of overseas students. Hong Kong and Japan held their places in fifth and sixth places, but Nigeria leapfrogged Taiwan to take seventh place, with the number of Nigerian students rising from 4,585 in 2002-03 to 5,940 in 2003-04.
Pakistan also made it into the top ten countries supplying students to the UK, ousting Canada. There were 4,380 students from Pakistan in 2003-04, more than the 3,905 students from Singapore.
In the same year, the number of students from European Union countries fell by 1.1 per cent from 90,580 to 89,545. But this does not take into account an 8.2 per cent rise in students from EU accession countries.
Of those countries outside the EU but in Europe geographically, Norway was the single biggest supplier, accounting for 3,655 students in 2003-04.
This was followed by Turkey with 1,960 students, up by nearly 12 per cent; Russia with 1,880, up 7.4 per cent; and Switzerland with 1,465, up 11 per cent. Just 226 students came from Croatia in 2003-04, but this was an increase of more than 40 per cent, the single biggest rise of any country.
Business and administrative studies were most popular among undergraduate and taught postgraduate international students in the UK in 2003-04.
Research degree students were most attracted to engineering and technology programmes. Those studying for a foundation degree, higher national diploma or higher national certificate preferred subjects allied to medicine.