Urban colleges are being asked to count student asylum seekers amid fears that tightened refugee laws and benefit cuts could badly hit rolls.
A survey by the Association for Colleges and Southwark College, London, will attempt to gauge for the first time exactly how many asylum seekers are studying on courses paid for by the Further Education Funding Council.
Under new social security rules introduced earlier this month, people seeking asylum in Britain are now denied benefits unless they apply for refugee status at the point they enter the country. Without the right to claim benefit, they are also no longer eligible for free further education.
That leaves colleges facing a stark choice between using their own dwindling reserves to subsidise asylum-seekers who have had their FEFC funding removed, or turning away students who have lost welfare benefits.
Latest figures put the annual total of asylum seekers and refugees - those with leave to remain in the UK - at about 60,000. Many turn to colleges on arrival in the UK for help with English or updating skills.
The AFC believes numbers are high enough for some colleges, particularly in London, to be badly hit.