The principal of a Scottish university has launched a blistering attack on the UK Government’s immigration policies which he claims are “hindering recruitment plans”.

Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal of University of the West of Scotland, has spoken out after a decision was taken to include overseas students in revised UK immigration totals.

He said there has already been a drop in the number of non-EU students coming to the UK and this move will make the situation worse.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, which was passed before the end of the parliamentary session, will have a severe impact on the ability of UK universities to attract foreign students, according to Professor Mahoney.

The Conservatives insisted they support efforts to “ensure overseas students continue to come to the UK”.

Professor Mahoney said: “Theresa May’s refusal to remove foreign students from the revised immigration statistics, will continue to hinder recruitment plans for non-EU students into UK universities.

“It’s deeply concerning that the UK is positioning itself as less attractive to overseas students and academic staff, particularly when the UK is keen to establish stronger international post-Brexit trade links.

“We are already starting to see a fall in the numbers of EU and non-EU students coming to the UK. This is particularly true for postgraduate students - those who are more likely to forge stronger relationships with industry or start their own businesses.”

Professor Mahoney said many universities will now need to evaluate their investment and growth strategies to “protect their long-term viability”.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said recently that university leaders were deterring students from coming to the UK by suggesting the country is “closed for business”.

Professor Mahoney described that position as “frankly incredulous”.

He said: “The rhetoric that the UK is closed for business, comes directly from rejected international recruits who have been unable to secure a Tier 4 visa to study in any one of the outstanding universities across the UK…it is not coming from university leaders, who are extremely encouraging about studying in the UK.”

Meanwhile, University of Glasgow Principal, Professor Anton Muscatelli, has suggested there should be a differentiated Brexit deal to safeguard Scotland’s interests.

He said: “The rise in EU immigration has gone some way to stabilising our population and added significantly to our economic activity – but there is now a real and serious danger that this progress will be stalled or entirely reversed as a result of Brexit.

“This could impact severely on our tax base and limit the resources the Scottish Parliament has at its disposal.”

Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman, said: “We want to attract the brightest and the best to come to Scotland's universities and we support efforts to ensure overseas students continue to come to the UK.

“The SNP Government must also pull its weight by making Scotland attractive as a place to live.”