London: There has been a 24 percent drop in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study during the 2011-12 academic year, latest official figures show, reflecting concerns generated due to visa restrictions imposed on non-EU students by the David Cameron government.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the number of Chinese domicile students at British higher education institutions continued to grow during the academic year, but "the number of Indian and Pakistan domicile students fell for the first time" in recent years.
New restrictions on student visas have been much in the news since the Cameron government came to power, particularly its closure of the post-study work visa, which was popular among Indian students who used it to recover some of the cost of studying in Britain.
The government, keen to reduce immigration from non-EU countries, clamped down on universities such as the London Metropolitan University, which saw its licence to recruit Indian and other non-EU students cancelled recently.
Jo Beall, British Council director of education and society, said the Indian and Pakistani falls were "very alarming indeed".
"Not only are these countries with large numbers of ambitious students aspiring to study overseas, but they are also countries with which we have historically been actively engaged in the areas of higher education and research," she added.
Tim Westlake, director for the student experience at Manchester University, told The Guardian that students whose families relied on them working in Britain after their studies to gain experience and repay the fees were starting to look elsewhere.
"Since 2004, the university has had significant growth in Indian students, but over the past two years there has been a 32 percent drop in Indian master's enrolments. Master's applications from India are down again by 33 percent this year,"Westlake added.
Beall said: "Although the UK government has made it clear there is no cap on international students, these statistics for the first time provide real evidence that the changes to UK visa regulations may have dissuaded many students from applying to the UK, and in particular postgraduate students who are so important to the UK's research
She added: "The UK enjoys an excellent reputation around the world for the high quality of our education system, so the government needs to ensure that institutions have all the support they need to attract international students who make a tremendous academic, cultural and economic contribution to the UK."
Overall, the number of non-EU students studying at British higher education institutions rose by 1.5 per cent in 2011-12, according to HESA.