London: The head of Oxford University has criticised the UK government's "hostile" student visa policy which is putting off foreign students, especially from India.
Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of one of the world's most prestigious educational institutions, said that UK higher education is "an attractive commodity in the world market" and he questioned why in a time of "continued economic constraint" there was a limit on "one of our most effective generators of overseas revenue".
"Wherever I travel in the world, particularly in China and India, one question persists. Why has the UK adopted a visa system so hostile to student entry? I do my best to answer but, frankly, the question baffles me as well," he said during his annual oration to the university today.
"For the first time in decades, the number of international students at our universities has dropped, most markedly from India. Why are we doing this to them ? and to ourselves," he questioned.
He said that research from Oxford's Migration Observatory found that overseas student numbers and immigration issues are not linked in the minds of the public.
"Study is the least frequent answer given when the public are asked what they consider the motives for migration to be. Student migration simply isn't an issue for them," Prof Hamilton said.
The Oxford VC called political parties to use research-based evidence to form their immigration election policies, and also argued for more public investment in universities.
His views came soon after an attack on the UK government's immigration policy by Nobel Prize-winning British-American scientist John O'Keefe.
The US-born neuroscientist, who won the 2014 prize for rat research into the brain's inner "GPS system", said immigration rules were "a very, very large obstacle" to hiring the best scientists.
"I am very, very acutely aware of what you have to do if you want to bring people into Britain and to get through immigration, I'm not saying it's impossible, but we should be thinking hard about making Britain a more welcoming place," he said.
According to latest available statistics, the number of Indian students coming to study in the UK fell from 18,535 in 2010-11 to 13,250 in 2011-12 and further to 10,235 in 2012-13.