INTERNATIONAL students should not be classed as immigrants, say the British public, and nor should politicians try to cut their numbers to lower net migration, according to a new study.

The report from the British Future think tank and Universities UK, the representative organisation of the country's universities, also suggested the Lib-Con coalition should remove international students from immigration targets and support moves to attract more of them.

David Cameron, who is trying to reduce annual net migration to the ''tens of thousands'' by the 2015 General Election, last month announced tougher rules on universities and colleges, which sponsor international students in the UK.

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From November, the threshold for stripping educational institutions of their ''highly trusted sponsor'' status will be cut, so that they lose it if 10 per cent or more of the individuals they offer places to are refused visas rather than the present 20 per cent.

According to the new report, international students are the largest group of migrants from outside the EU counted in the UK Government's immigration figures.

But a poll of 2,111 people found just 22 per cent viewed overseas students as immigrants.

Some 59 per cent of respondents said the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if it made it harder to reduce numbers.