London: Britain's stringent norms on student visas have resulted in a decline in the number of Indian students in higher education by nearly a quarter last year.
Students from India, coming to study at schools and universities in UK, fell by 23.5 per cent overall, including a 28 per cent drop at the post-graduate level.
Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency yesterday show less than 30,000 students from India were studying at UK higher educational institutions in 2011-12, compared to around 40,000 in the previous year.
India, however, remains the second most common country of origin for foreign students in Britain after China, which sent 79,000 students last year.
Universities have been warning the UK government that recent changes to student visa rules mean they face losing bright foreign students to rival colleges in the US, Canada and Australia.
Changes to the post-study work visa from April last year removed the option for most foreign students to stay and work for two years after their studies.
Under new rules, students can stay for three years post-study only if they find "graduate-level jobs" on salaries of BP 20,000 or higher.
Last month, Home Secretary Theresa May had announced that consular staff would interview more than 100,000 prospective students in an attempt to prevent bogus applicants entering the country.
These developments have been seen as largely responsible for making Britain seem like a less welcoming educational destination.
"It is essential that we have a period of stability on immigration policy for international students and that our immigration procedures do not create inappropriate barriers for international students who want to study here," Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, told the Daily Telegraph.
The latest data also reveals a 13.4 per cent drop in the number of Pakistani students at British universities year-on-year, including a 19 per cent drop in post-graduates.
While the number of non-European Union (EU) students went up by 1.5 per cent as a result of a 16.9 per cent rise in students coming from China, the overall number of non-EU students coming to Britain for post-graduate courses dropped for the first time in 16 years.
Immigration minister Mark Harper dismissed cause for concern.
"Our reforms have tackled abuse head on while favouring universities to ensure we remain open to the brightest and the best. That's why it's no surprise that these figures, and our own visa statistics, show a continued increase in the number of foreign students coming to study at our world-class universities. It's clear that our immigration changes are working with overall net migration to the UK falling by a quarter in the past year," he said.
Overseas students are estimated to bring BP 8 billion a year into the British economy, a figure projected to rise to BP 16.8 billion by 2025, according to a study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Universities get 10 per cent of their total income and a third of their tuition fee revenue from non-EU students.
London mayor Boris Johnson had called on the government to remove students from immigration target figures and allow them to stay longer to work after their courses end during his tour of India last November.
The issue also features high on the agenda for an upcoming visit to the country by Prime Minister David Cameron, expected next month.