Theresa May has rejected calls for students to be removed from immigration figures, despite calls from chancellor Philip Hammond that such a move would be in line with public opinion. While Hammond has supported the idea that migration targets shouldn’t include international students, May was quick to dismiss this.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The government objective is to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands, and in order to deliver this we are keeping all visa routes under review. Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included.”

If the government is to meet targets of bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands, many are calling for a reform of how this number is calculated. While student visas have been abused in the past, this has been reduced in recent years under the instruction of then home secretary, Theresa May.

Prominent universities throughout the UK have already voiced their concerns that placing limits on the number of people coming to the UK to study will deliver an “absolutely devastating blow”. According to Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, “It would hugely reduce diversity, which really matters. It would reduce standards, as we need to recruit the best students wherever they are. And the financial effects would be serious – you would see wholesale job losses.”

In her maiden speech at the conservative party conference, home secretary Amber Rudd outlined her plans to categorise universities into gold, silver and bronze institutions. These rankings would then determine if or how a university is allowed to recruit overseas students. If these rankings were determined by the Teaching Excellence Framework, as some have suggested they could be, this would deliver a blow to some of the UK’s most prestigious universities.

Some Russell Group universities perform poorly in the Teaching Excellence Framework, but excel in other areas such as research, which is why they are an attractive choice for international students. The concern is that the United Kingdom would lose its position as a world-renowned destination for studying amidst increased competition for university places.