Stricter visa rules and fewer scholarships have been forcing students to think twice about studying in the UK, which is known to offer quality education in several fields.

As per data published by the US-based Higher Education Statistics Agency recently, there was a 23.5 per cent drop in the number of Indian students in the UK in 2012. India, however, remains the second-most common country of origin for foreign students in Britain after China.

“South Indian cities like Bangalore and Chennai are extremely important to us, as we get many students wanting to pursue either engineering or management in the U.K.,” said Rachel Sunderland, senior marketing manager, Bournsemouth University.

Changes to the post-study work visa from April last year removed the option for most foreign students to stay and work for two years after their studies, which is why, say experts, the number of postgraduate students travelling from non-EU countries to study at UK universities fell for the first time in 16 years

“Now students can no longer remain in the country to work. This is a major deterrent. The fee for UK universities for a one-year postgraduate course is over £11,000 and an equal amount is needed for stay and food,” said Rama Prasad, a final-year engineering student. “It would be difficult to repay the student loan if I am not able to work there for two years post-studies,” she said.

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that fewer than 30,000 students from India were studying at UK higher education institutions in 2011-12, compared to around 40,000 in the previous year. . which sent 79,000 students last year.

Many universities have been warning the UK government that recent changes to student visa rules mean they face losing bright foreign students to rival colleges in the US, Canada and Australia where procuring the work visa is relatively simpler.

A visa officer from the UK High Commission while interacting with students who visited the one-day Education@UK exhibition organised by British Council on Sunday, advised them to communicate frequently with their sponsoring universities when they were involved in visa processes, which are constantly changing.

This year, students opting for a course with a duration of over six months, will also have to undergo a pre-entry tuberculosis screening.

Consultants however say the decline is not a worrying trend.

“Now we find many students, very focussed in specific areas of studies wanting to go to the UK. What is appealing about education in the UK is that it becomes easier to go to other European countries. You can finish mechanical engineering in Britain and work in Germany,” said Mohammed Ghani, director, Limra Overseas Educational Consultants.

Students are hopeful too. “Under new rules, students can stay for three years post-study if they find graduate-level jobs. Earlier, UK recruiters used to hire Indian nationals only if they did not find anyone suitable from an EU country for that specific job. Now that might change, said Vishwanath Rajan, an IT employee who was looking to pursue a management course in the UK.