The admissions body Ucas cited the “uncertainty” sparked by Britain’s exit from the bloc as a reason for the slump in the number of students coming from Europe last year.
EU applicants were down to 31,670 in 2021 – falling by 40 per cent since the previous year, according to the latest annual Ucas report.
The number of EU students who won places at British universities dropped down to 16,025 – a 50 per cent decline.
“Undergraduate applications and placed students from the EU have been impacted by a range of factors – including the uncertainty associated with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and changes to student support arrangements,” the admissions body said.
The latest Ucas figures for the 2022 cycle show the post-Brexit effect continuing – there have been just under 20,820 EU applicants, a fall of 19 per cent since this point last year.
However, Britain’s higher education institutions saw a 48 per cent rise in the number of US students applying for courses last year.
China remains the largest “market” for international students, ahead of India, but America saw the largest increase in applicants of any major nation.
Overall, applicants from outside of the EU rose by over 12 per cent last year to a record 111,255, according to the Ucas report.
Kareem Dus, founder of Favisbrook firm helping American students get visas to study abroad, told the BBC that Britain’s apparent shift towards the US after Brexit had made it more attractive to some of his clients.
“This is a growing market for us – we’ve certainly noticed an increase in orders for UK visas from the American side,” he said, adding that foreign students are “highly skilled and however long they stay they will contribute to the economy”.
The latest, 2022 cycle figures shows that the number of applicants from outside the EU continues to rise – the numbers are currently up 5 per cent.
Clare Marchant, chief executive at UCAS, said: “Whilst applications have been very resilient throughout the pandemic, the robust demand from China, India and Hong Kong … shows the enduring appeal of our world-class universities.”
It comes as graduates are reportedly set to be forced to pay more for their student loans. The i newspapers said the government is “poised” to lower the repayment threshold from £27,295 a year to £25,000.
The government’s long-awaited Augar review of higher education funding in England is set to be published this week, and it could see the introduction of both student number controls and minimum entry requirements for some university applicants.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the measures are being considered to prevent pupils being “pushed into higher education before they are ready” and to ensure “poor-quality, low-cost courses aren’t incentivised to grow uncontrollably”.
Lee Elliot Major, said a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said that if the plans are implemented “crudely” they will stop poorer pupils getting to university from age three.
He said: “If this is implemented crudely it will effectively be closing off university prospects at age three for many poorer children – our research shows the depressingly strong link between achieving poorly in early age tests and failing to get passes in English and maths GCSEs at age 16.”
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