The latest figures for the number of students from outside the European Union (EU) applying for visas to study in the UK has gone down, raising concerns in the higher education sector of a decline in foreign enrolments.

According to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday, sponsored visa applications from non-EU nationals to study at UK universities fell by two percent in the year ending in June 2016.

Less visa applications mean less enrolments, sparking financial fears among UK institutions that heavily rely on international students.

However, the numbers show that declines in sponsored visa applications were higher for those intending to study at English language schools (25 percent) or in the further education sector and at other educational institutions (eight percent).

Based on figures provided by the Home Office, China is the biggest source of students coming to the UK.

Up to 34 percent of study visas granted in the year came from China, followed by the U.S. (seven percent), India (five percent), Malaysia (five percent), and Hong Kong (four percent).

In recent years, the number of Indian students pursuing their studies in the UK has gone down sharply, which has largely been attributed to the abolition of post-study work visas in 2012.

Since former Home Secretary Theresa May became Prime Minister, rumours have been circulating in the UK media regarding a crackdown to reduce the number of non-EU students and workers coming in to the country.

“One idea is to stop universities from marketing their courses as opportunities for students to work in Britain – and new measures to ensure students return home when their courses end,” wrote The Sun in an August 24 report.

James Pitman, Managing Director for Study Group’s higher education division, told Times Higher Education: “Brexit, unfortunately, could compound the problem for the UK’s world-class higher education sector, risking, as it does, £800 million of EU research funding, top EU research talent and some 50,000 EU students enrolling every year. The rumors that Theresa May is planning a fresh crackdown on student visas are, therefore, extremely worrying.

“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.”

Meanwhile, a Universities UK spokesman said: “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.”

He added that “the UK needs a new government strategy to encourage more international students and academics to come to the UK. This is more important than ever as the UK looks to enhance its place in the world post-Brexit”.

Image via Unsplash

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