Almost 30,000 fewer would-be students applied for university this year, marking only the third time in 15 years that numbers have dropped.
UCAS figures reveal that in the wake of Brexit, the number of EU students planning to study at a UK university has fallen by around 7percent, from 45,220 to 42,070 applicants.
While admitting it is not a “catastrophic” change, education experts have warned that some issues must “urgently” be addressed to tackle this decline, the Press Association reported.
Overall, 564,190 people have applied to start a course at a UK university in autumn 2017, down 5 percent (29,530 students) compared to the same point in 2016.
It is just the third fall in applicant numbers since 2002, and the biggest since 2012 - the year that tuition fees in England were trebled to £9,000.
The other drop was in 2006, when fees were raised to £3,000.
There has also been a 5 percent decrease in UK applicants, while the number of potential international students from countries outside the EU remains similar to last year.
According to a UCAS analysis, EU applicant numbers would have been expected to go up by around 3,000 this year, based on previous trends. They have actually dropped by around 3,000.
The Brexit vote initially caused uncertainty over whether or not EU students applying to start courses at English institutions in September 2017 would be eligible for loans and grants in the future.
Ministers announced on October 11 - four days before the early application deadline - that these students will be able to access funding for the duration of their degree. This arrangement will be honoured even if the UK leaves the EU during this time.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said: “There seem to be a number of factors behind this decline in applicant figures.
“This includes the possible impact of the Brexit vote on EU applicants and changes to the way degrees in nursing, midwifery and some other allied health professions in England are funded.
“While the drop is not catastrophic, particularly given last year’s record high, there is a need to address some issues urgently.”
Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University, which has over 2,000 EU students, said: “The figures bring the perception of how welcoming the UK is as a study destination into sharp focus, regardless of whether they prove Brexit is having a chilling effect on demand.
“In Poland for example, the numbers of young people choosing to study in the UK have grown by almost 150 percent over the last five years, so the sector will not want to see a check on such growth,” he continued.
“The falls from UK and EU students suggest that universities may need to go more global, more quickly, but each is now going to have to look at its model, I am sure some will reduce in size and scale while others may increase their share.”