The number of first-year EU students at British universities fell by more than half in the previous academic year, official statistics revealed, prompting alarm from academics on Friday.
The “significant decrease” in student numbers was down to Brexit-imposed “changes in fees eligibility”, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).
EU students now have to pay the more expensive international rate for education rather than the cheaper charge for UK citizens that was required when the UK was in the EU.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt used a speech on Friday to refute talk of decline in Britain, and promised that Brexit would be the catalyst for a new age of growth in an economy that has increasingly lagged behind its peers.
“Our plan for growth is necessitated, energised and made possible by Brexit,” Mr Hunt said.
In the academic year beginning in autumn 2021, first-year enrolments from students in the EU dropped by 53 per cent, Hesa said.
The number of students from Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece and Italy fell particularly noticeably, the report said.
Michael Smith, professor in international relations at Aberdeen University, tweeted that this was “such a huge loss for the UK's HigherEd sector, and a totally self-inflicted wound”.
John Gallagher, associate history professor at the University of Leeds, wrote that the figures were “sad news for anyone who thinks universities should be diverse, international, and welcoming”.
Francesca Ciccarelli, professor of cancer genomics at King's College London, tweeted that this “absurd, self-inflicted damage should end soon or UK science will decline rapidly”.
Enrolments of EU-domiciled students fell from 66,680 to 31,400, according to Hesa.
The number of EU students enrolling in undergraduate courses fell most steeply, from nearly 40,000 to just under 15,000.
Overall, the total number of students starting UK courses rose 2 per cent year on year, fuelled by an increase in non-EU students enrolling in postgraduate studies, particularly one-year masters courses.
China sent more students to the UK than any other country.
A 2021 report found that England's universities contributed more than £95 billion ($117 billion) a year to the UK economy, helped by the fees and economic activity generated by foreign students.