Britain's reputation as one of the world's top study destinations was dented this week as applications from students outside the European Union tumbled, writes Alison Goddard.
The number of non-EU students is down 5.3 per cent, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Particularly worrying is that the number of students applying from China, targeted by universities as a poten-tially massive market, has plummeted by 25 per cent.
Dominic Scott, chief executive of Ukcosa, the council for international education, said: "There is a complexity of factors at work here. Everybody has been talking about an adjustment to the market after increasing growth over the past few years. This is, to one degree, a reduction from an unparalleled high. However, there are clearly more factors at play here.
"We have argued in particular that the imposition of visa-extension fees in 2003 and other charges would have a general impact on the reputation of the UK as a welcoming place.
"There is a major concern about China. In spring and summer 2004, the whole process of issuing visas to students from China was changed. This resulted in a major increase in rejection rates.
"We could be talking about a change that will have a long-term impact on the UK's image as a place that is reasonably easy to get into in order to study."
Benson Osawe, international students officer for the National Union of Students, said: "I wouldn't be surprised if prospective non-EU students are confused by the message coming from our Government.
"They are being welcomed here with open arms by universities because of the collateral they provide in fees, but the Government is making it harder for them by imposing further charges and a need for a sponsor, outlined in the immigration plan."
The reclassification of accession countries as members of the EU also contributed to the fall.