The statistics come as the government was accused of failing to deliver a “credible response” to a recommendation from the House of Commons Business, Skills and Innovation Committee that students should be removed from net migration targets.
There were 209,804 study visas issued for the year ending December 2012, a fall of 20 per cent on the year before, although these data are not broken down by universities, colleges and schools.
There was a sizable drop off in study visas issued to students from South Asia: Pakistani (-69 per cent), Indian (-50 per cent), Sri Lankan (-72 per cent) and Bangladeshi (-53 per cent) nationals all saw steep declines.
But there was an eight per cent increase in the number of visas issued to Chinese nationals.
Meanwhile, there was a 22 per cent fall in applications for student visas in the year ending December 2012. While applications to universities increased by 3 per cent, they fell 62 per cent for the further education sector at 69 per cent for English language schools.
In a separate report issued today, the BIS committee accused the government of seeking to “underplay the urgency of the problem” of the threat to international student numbers caused by tighter controls on immigration.
Too Little, Too Late: Committee’s observations on the Government Response to the Report on Overseas Students and Net Migration responds to the government’s statement earlier this week that it would not remove international students from the net migration count.
The coalition has pledged to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015. Today’s ONS figures show the net flow of migrants to the UK was 163,000 in the year ending June 2012, a drop of 34% on the year before but still well short of the target.
In October 2012, the BIS committee recommended that “overseas students should be recorded under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit on net migration”.
But its latest report castigates the government for responding to its report almost four months after the normal two-month deadline.
The response was also “woefully short on detail”, the report says, and questions whether government has been “fudging the facts” in disputing that its immigration policy changes have been having a negative impact on higher education.