Ms Cooper, speaking at the Labour conference in Manchester last night, said Labour would have a series of targets for different kinds of migration – but not for international students.
The current government’s policy to lower net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015 has been criticised by universities, who believe it is harming their ability to attract international students.
Greg Clark, the universities and science minister, recently said that university students would not be withdrawn from the net migration target – a policy Universities UK has long advocated.
But Ms Cooper told a fringe event on immigration policy hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank: “We would not have a net migration target, because choosing net migration to focus on is the wrong thing.
“We think immediately what should happen is that students – international university students – should be taken out of the net migration target straight away.
“What you should instead have is a system of different controls and targets for different kinds of immigration.”
Ms Cooper also told the event: “The problem with the net migration target is it treats all migration the same…It treats refugees the same as low-skilled migration, the same as university students. We should separate out different kinds of migration.
“We should recognise that we want lower low-skilled immigration, but also want to make sure we have university students that bring billions [of pounds] into this country and who contribute.”
Labour’s pledge on net migration was first made by Liam Byrne, the shadow universities, science and skills minister, speaking at the Universities UK conference two weeks ago.