The number of South Asian students enrolling at English universities has seen a dramatic decline, according to a new survey.
The study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) reports that the number of Indian students fell from 18,535 in 2010-11 to 13,250 in 2011-12 while the number of new Pakistani students fell by nearly 40% to 2825.
The government’s strict new visa rules for students from outside the EUropean Union, in particular for applicants from so-called “high risk” countries in South Asia and Africa, have been widely cited as the reason for the fall in international admissions at UK universities.
Under the Tier 4 visa rules, not only do students face tougher scrutiny from visa officers but are also required to produce evidence about their English-language capabilities and financial well-being owing to stricter limits on the number of hours they are allowed to work.
Critics of the rules – including Business Secretary Vince Cable – have said that they have discouraged international students who contribute billions to the British economy every year.
Last May Mr Cable warned that the public debate about immigration was in danger of damaging the “economically valuable” recruitment of overseas students to the UK.
Mr Cable said overseas students had become caught up in the “public panic” over migrant numbers.
HEFCE chief executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said international students were vitally important for Britain.
“International students enrich our universities and colleges – and our society – academically, culturally, and through their contribution to the economy,” she said.
“Supporting high-quality international education is a crucial part of ensuring that the UK continues to engage with, and benefit from, the increasingly interconnected world.”
The government maintains that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students allowed to enter the UK.