Almost 16,000 fewer British students started postgraduate courses at UK universities in 2011-12 compared with the previous academic year - falling from 200,875 to 185,120, according to data released today by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
That fall was largely caused by a collapse in first-year enrolments by UK students wishing to study part time, which fell by 16,965 to 97,520 students in 2011-12, a 15 per cent drop.
First-year enrolments from non-EU postgraduate students also fell - down by 2,045 students to 103,150, a 2 per cent fall.
Overall numbers of postgraduate numbers were also down in 2011-12, the latest figures show.
A total of 568,505 students were in postgraduate education in 2011-12 - more than 20,000 fewer than the 588,720 in 2010-11, which equates to a 3 per cent fall.
The drop was steeper for UK students, whose numbers fell by 4 per cent overall, down from 375,030 in 2010-11 to 358,800 last year.
The confirmation of a decline in postgraduate study follows a letter by nine UK university vice-chancellors to The Observer on 6 January calling for the government to address the lack of support for postgraduate students.
Condemning the "policy vacuum" on postgraduate study, the university leaders called for ministers to put in place a funding model for those who may be put off by the high cost of courses.
However, despite the fall in postgraduate study, overall student numbers remained stable in 2011-12 compared with the previous year as a result of a 1 per cent increase in undergraduate numbers.
Almost 2.5 million people, including 302,680 non-EU students, were enrolled in a higher education course in 2011-12, roughly the same level as in 2010-11.
Of these 1,928,140 were undergraduates and 568,505 were postgraduates.
The latest Hesa data also show how UK students continue to gain better degree classifications at UK universities.
In 2011-12, 66 per cent of those gaining a first degree achieved a first or upper second compared with 61 per cent in 2007-08.
Women outperformed men, with 68 per cent of females gaining a first or 2.1 compared with 63 per cent of males in 2011-12.