Interest from overseas slows

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The growth in the number of overseas students arriving at UK universities almost ground to a halt this autumn with just over 300 more foreign undergraduates starting courses.

A total of 45,363 foreign students enrolled at UK universities, compared with 45,058 last year. But this small rise hid drops in student numbers from countries such as China and Nigeria. The number of Chinese students fell by nearly 400 this year to 4,459, a drop of 8 per cent, and the number of Nigerians fell from 3,187 to 2,109 (34 per cent).

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education minister, blamed an increasingly competitive market for the decline.

Overseas students provide vital sources of income to universities as they pay higher tuition fees than those from the UK or EU. Tony Blair has personally backed two drives to boost overseas student numbers, arguing that they are vital to the economy. In 1999 he set a target of an additional 75,000 international students by 2005. This was exceeded by 43,000 and Mr Blair went on to set a more ambitious target of an extra 100,000 students by 2011.

The numbers of foreign students were boosted by some big rises from students in new EU countries. The number of Polish students increased by more than 50 per cent to 1,563.