That is one of the findings in a Universities UK report, Patterns and trends in UK higher education, published yesterday.
Paul O'Prey, vice-chancellor of Roehampton University and chair of UUK's Longer Term Strategy Network, says in his foreword to the report: "Since 2001 the number of students gaining a first degree has risen by 17 per cent, while the number achieving a postgraduate qualification has risen by per cent.
"Much of this growth can be attributed to the sector's ability to attract students from around the world to study in the UK."
And he adds: "If current trends continue, universities are on track to generate £17 billion of annual export earnings by 2025. Achieving this growth potential will require the university sector and the government to work together to ensure that recruitment activities and migration policies are mutually supportive."
The report notes that: "In 2002-03 non-EU students made up just 8 per cent of the total student population; by 2010-11 this had risen to around 12 per cent."
It adds that the most significant growth has been in international students taking master's courses, with the number more than doubling since 2002-03.
In terms of countries sending students to the UK, the report says: "The most noticeable increases are from Asia and the Middle East, which together have experienced more than an 80 per cent rise in the number of students that they send to the UK [since 2002-03]."
Among other statistics, the report finds that at first degree level, 55 per cent of students at UK universities are female. "At postgraduate research level, however, the proportion of women is around 47 per cent," it adds.
On subject choice, the report says: "Enrolments on engineering courses at the beginning of the 2000s were relatively static but by 2006-07 an upturn was evident and there has been a subsequent increase of around 23 per cent. Mathematical sciences and biological sciences have seen the largest percentage increases since 2002-03."