Foreign students coming to the UK to study fell sharply in the year to September 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The study showed 41,000 fewer students came to the UK for long-term study, the vast majority of the drop - 31,000 - coming from non-EU students.
The Liberal Democrats said an increase in xenophobic crime and violence that followed the UK’s vote to leave the European Union was behind the decrease in foreign students, although the figures cover only three months after the referendum, long after applications for most courses have closed, and before the academic year begins.
Nicola White, ONS head of international migration statistics, said: "There has been a statistically significant decrease in non-EU long-term students immigrating to the UK, while a small increase was seen in the number of study visas issued.
"It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend."
Liberal Democrat spokesman Brian Paddick said: "International students boost our economy and enrich campuses up and down the UK.
"The spike in hate crimes since the referendum and the Government's poisonous rhetoric on immigration are having an impact on the number of students who choose to study in the UK.
"At a time when this Brexit Government should be trying to keep our economy strong and attract international talent, it seems intent on self-harm.
"I hope these figures act as a wake-up call to Theresa May to reverse the damaging policy of bringing immigration down at all costs."
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