A leading tourism academic has joined industry leaders in slamming UK visa policy, warning it is putting top university courses at risk.

Professor Graham Miller of the University of Surrey told Travel Weekly: “Visa restrictions risk jeopardising courses and departments.”

Miller, who heads Surrey University’s school of hospitality and tourism management, which aims to turn out future industry leaders, said: “Most masters’ courses would not exist without overseas students – it would be uneconomic to run them.

“Our programme at Surrey, which is the number-one tourism masters’ course in Europe and among the top five in the world, would not exist.”

He added: “There is no downside to having overseas students. Tourism benefits: students travel on their holidays and act as advocates, telling people at home ‘the UK is amazing’. It is estimated the UK gets three return visits out of each student.”

That is on top of what overseas students spend on studying – £15,000 a year in fees, plus living expenses. Miller said: “It is worth billions.

“Yet it is such a hassle to get into the country because of the obsession with keeping immigration down.

“It took us four months to get a visa for a Korean PhD student who had studied at a top-10 US university.”

The industry will hope a simplified visa policy follows abolition of the UK Border Agency, announced last week by home secretary Theresa May.

The agency, set up in 2008, will revert to the Home Office and the visa system be separated from immigration enforcement. The Passport Service and Border Force, whose personnel check passports at airports, were separated from the agency last year.

Miller is a judge of the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, to be presented at the WTTC Summit in Abu Dhabi next week.