Take-up of places on engineering and technology courses dropped by more than 7 per cent in 1998 compared with an overall decline of 2 per cent across the higher education sector, according to the Engineering Council.
The number of United Kingdom students joining engineering courses fell last year by 4 per cent, to 16,298. But the drop in overseas students was more dramatic, plunging by 5,718 on the previous year - a fall of 15 per cent compared with a 4 per cent average.
The council's research found that various engineering subjects showed markedly different acceptance rates in 1998. Civil engineering and chemical engineering fell by 6 and 5 per cent respectively for home students, while mechanical engineering grew by 4 per cent. Aeronautical engineering saw a 7 per cent rise, but this was from a low 1997 base of just 986 students.
A-level scores of students accepted rose from 18.9 to 19.3 points, continuing a trend dating back to 1994. And 45 per cent of degree entrants met the 24 point requirement for MEng courses, while 26 per cent reached the threshold for BEng courses.
Andrew Ramsay, director of engineers' regulation at the council, said that despite the downturn in take-up of places, engineering is now beginning to feel the benefits of tougher entry requirements introduced for courses accredited by the council.
"Unfortunately and unfairly, engineering courses have gained a reputation for being a soft option. By raising entry standards, the council believes courses will actually become more attractive to students, " Mr Ramsay said.
The council expects numbers to stabilise imminently.
David Howard of the Engineering Professors Council said the fall in acceptances was "worrying" for engineering departments. Professor Howard, head of electronics at York University, said that tuition fees may have put potential applicants off four-year MEng courses.