Buffeted by major funding cuts in the number of high-fee paying students from India and other non-European Union countries, British universities have lodged a strong protest against moves that are likely to seriously jeopardise their finances and international reputation.

Home secretary Theresa May in this week is expected to announce a sharp reduction in the number of non-EU students that will be allowed to enter Britain for studies.

Many universities depend on income from international students to meet their costs.

The cut in student visas is prompted by the David Cameron’s government intention to reduce immigration into Britain, and reports of large scale abuse of the student visas in the Indian sub-continent.

Current plans are likely to reduce the recruitment of non-EU staff and students to British universities.

Last week, the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee said that up to 80 per cent of the reduction in net migration, which stood at about 196,000 cases last year, would have to be borne by students and family reunion cases.

The prediction was met with a chorus of protest from universities, which fear that the flow of students from outside the European Union will be affected, even if the government focuses its efforts on those studying on courses below degree level.

’Universities UK’, the umbrella body for universities in the United Kingdom, warned against such a reduction, saying: “Our established competitors, together with developing higher education systems, are competing with us for academic talent.

This competition is real and urgent and we simply cannot compete if our hands are tied by artificial migration limits.”

Besides cuts in student visas, universities also fear that they will not be able to recruit the right skills for academic positions due to the controversial annual limit of non-E.U. professionals who can enter the U.K. for work.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “The government’s proposals to limit the migration of highly skilled workers will be damaging to U.K. universities as they will be unable to compete effectively for international staff. U.K. universities have an excellent reputation for high quality teaching and research.”

She added: “But to maintain that reputation our universities need to be able to recruit the best staff and compete against other countries to attract academic talent.

This competition is real and urgent and we simply cannot compete if our hands are tied by artificial migration limits.

The U.K. will lose out if these recommendations are accepted by the government.”

In October, two Manchester-based Russian-born scientists winning the Nobel prize for Physics sparked off a welter of protest by top scientists and vice-chancellors against the annual cap on recruiting professionals from outside the European Union.

Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov, the Nobel winners, joined six other Nobel prize winning British scientists to criticise the restrictive immigration measure that imposes a limit on universities and companies.

Besides Professors Geim and Novoselov, another foreign-born scientist based in Britain to win the Nobel prize was Tamil Nadu-born Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who won the prize for Chemistry in 2009.

He is based at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge. In a letter to The Times, the eight scientists said the new immigration restrictions imposed by the Cameron government would deprive science and industry of talent.

They said it was a “sad reflection” that scientists and engineers could not be afforded the same exception to the rules as Premier League footballers.

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