New figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) have shown there was a 17% fall in the number of first year undergraduates at UK universities in the first year of higher tuition fees.
England saw a 12% fall in new full-time undergraduate students overall.
The government acknowledged the fall but stressed that demand for full time higher education has already ‘returned to record levels’.
Previously released figures had shown declines in applications and offers of places, and the admissions body UCAS also reported a fall.
The HESA data also show a 1% decline in non-EU students coming to the UK to study, something that concerns the National Union of Students.
A rise in the numbers of students from China and Hong Kong was off-set by a 25% fall in Indian students. It has previously been suggested they are being put off from the expense of study in the UK by a fall in the value of the rupee, and by improvements in Indian universities.
The National Union of Students says the decline in part-time students should be ‘acknowledged as a crisis’.