Too many bogus students are coming to stay in the UK and the abuse must stop, Immigration Minister Damian Green said today.
He defended plans for a crackdown on the student visa system - insisting that research had unearthed "unpleasant" abuses.
Student leaders have attacked moves to stop tens of thousands of people coming to the UK to study as an "absolute travesty".
But Mr Green said the Government's plans to cut the number of non-EU students coming to the UK were vital to stop people using bogus courses as a way into the country.
Scrapping the present regime will mean tens of thousands of students from outside the EU will be forced to go home after finishing their studies.
Only highly-trusted sponsors will be able to offer courses below degree level to adults, and inspections will be made more rigorous to ensure compliance.
Students will face tougher tests of their mastery of the English language and be forced to show evidence of academic progression if they want to extend their studies.
The right to work and bring in dependants will also be limited.
Mr Green said: "There will be a greater emphasis on quality and we shall drive abuse out of the system.
"The primary objective of studying in the UK must be to study, not to work or to acquire long-term residency status."
In his speech to the Reform think-tank, the minister said 91,000 people came to the UK in the past year to study at institutions not verified as "highly trusted".
"The potential for abuse is clearly enormous," he said.
Two-thirds of the non-EU migrants who enter the UK come on student visas and the Government wants to bring these numbers down as it tries to fulfil its pledge to cut net migration from 200,000 to fewer than 100,000 by 2015.
Mr Green said: "I believe attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK, but we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.
"People imagine that students come here for a few years to study at our universities and then go home - that is not always the case.
"Too many come to do courses below degree level as a cover for staying and working.
"I have been turning over the stones in this area, and I have to report that some unpleasant things have crawled out. We need to stop this abuse."
Mr Green said the Government needed to crack down on non-EU students staying in the UK for work to give British graduates the best chance.
"It seems to me that to allow unfettered access to the jobs market for two years to anyone with a student visa from abroad is putting an unnecessary extra strain on our own graduates," he said.
"That's clearly an area where the current system is too generous.
"We want to encourage people to stay in education for as long as possible.
"If they think they are going to incur the expense of a student course and then not have a job at the end of it, then that will discourage people from doing the best for themselves, which is to be as educated as possible.
"It's quite important that we have a proper fair playing field for British graduates in the jobs market."
Asked about the criticism of his plans from student leaders and university chiefs, he said: "They've just misunderstood what we're saying.
"I couldn't be clearer that the biggest restriction we're imposing is on sub-degree courses."
Driving out abuse will reduce the number of student visas, "but it need not affect any genuine institution offering a genuine course".
Mr Green went on: "There is clearly very, very widespread abuse in the system.
"Driving out that widespread abuse does actually mean that there would be a significant drop in the numbers of people coming here."
Last week, figures showed graduate unemployment hit its highest level for more than a decade, with a fifth out of work.
Some 20% of new graduates were unemployed in the third quarter of 2010, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This was almost double the rate before the start of the recession, when it stood at 10.6%.
Graduate unemployment also increased faster than for the UK as a whole, the figures showed.
By the end of the recession, the unemployment rate for new graduates was 2.3 times higher than the rest of the UK (18.5% compared with 7.9% in the third quarter of 2009).
At the start of the recession, the rate for recent graduates was around twice that of the UK (10.6% compared with 5.2%).Reuse content