The number of non-EU international students applying to study in the UK fell by two per cent in the year to June.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have caused concern among universities which need the income overseas students provide. There are worries that Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in charge of reducing non-EU immigration in her former role as Home Secretary, is planning to make it even harder to obtain a UK visa to study in Britain.
James Pitman from the Study Group’s higher education division, said the rumours were “extremely worrying”.
He added: “If we are to maintain our position as a global education powerhouse, and protect one of our most valuable exports, the Government must give both EU and non-EU students a fair deal and take overseas students out of net migration targets.”
The ONS data showed that the largest number of overseas students studying in the UK came from China (34 per cent), followed by seven per cent from the US and five per cent from both India and Malaysia. The percentage of Indian students studying in the UK has fallen sharply in recent years following the abolition of the post-study work visa in 2012, which allowed graduates to remain in Britain to seek employment.
Universities UK said it was important that the Government encouraged more international students and academics to come to Britain, especially as the UK “looks to enhance its place in the world post-Brexit”.
The spokesman added: “Although the UK continues to be one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students and staff, recruitment figures over the last few years have not done justice to our potential to increase our success in this global growth area.”