Universities have lost about £30 million in vital tuition fee income this year as a result of a Government clampdown on visa applications from overseas students, the Conservatives claimed this week.
In a survey of vice-chancellors for the Conservative Party, more than 70 per cent of respondents said that their accepted overseas applicants had had problems getting UK entry visas. The financial losses to institutions ranged from £150,000 and £2 million.
"Overseas students are a big money earner for the UK and vital to our universities," said Chris Grayling, the Tory Shadow Higher Education Minister.
"It beggars belief that the Government can so mismanage the visa system that it is turning away legitimate students at huge cost to our universities. The system is in chaos and needs urgent action."
Figures from UK Visas, the joint Foreign Office/Home Office agency that processes applications, show that the number of people entering the UK on a student visa fell by 14 per cent to 318,630 in 2003. It said this was the result of higher charges for student visas and a clampdown on visa applications amid concerns about illegal immigration.
A Home Office investigation last month found that one in four English-language colleges is a front for illegal entry to Britain.
The Tories said that legitimate universities were being hit by the clampdown on applications from "overzealous" entry clearance officers in UK embassies abroad.
The Conservatives received responses from 32 vice-chancellors, with 71 per cent saying they had experienced difficulties and nine reporting no problems.
The losses reported by universities ranged from 15 students to more than 100 students - according to figures reported by two institutions.
The Tories said that, if the findings were extrapolated across the sector, the average institutional loss would be £750,000, with the total as high as £30 million.
One vice-chancellor commented: "Instead of concentrating on where such problems are most likely to exist - dubious language colleges in London and the South East - the Foreign Office decided to change its visa system for everyone."
Another told the Tories: "We are aware of cases where visas have been refused on the basis of entry clearance officers second-guessing academic judgements about the suitability of candidates holding an offer from a university in the UK."