Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that numbers of first year students from EU countries at English universities have dropped 16 percent over the last two years.
This is in contrast to the steady increase in international applications for Scottish universities over the same period.
A report by the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) called the decrease of international students in England the “first significant slowdown in the past 29 years”.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, called the revelations “worrying”.
The main drop in England occurred in 2012, when the tuition fee cap was raised from £3,290 to £9,000.
Past studies have indicated that the increase of fees did not influence overall application numbers but this new data suggests that EU students do seem to be put off by high education costs.
“Many international students feel unwelcome in the UK as a result of the government’s hostile and overzealous policies. The government’s unconsidered approach to immigration is hurting students, the education sector and the communities around them,” said National Union of Students (NUS) international officer Shreya Paudel.
Students from other EU countries are entitled the same financial support as UK students.
However, going to England for university remains the most expensive option for students from mainland Europe who wish to study abroad.
Many continental universities have no or much lower fee levels than English universities.
Germany has abandoned tuition fees entirely and made higher education free, while Scottish universities remain free for EU students.
Parallel to the drop in England, numbers of international first year students at Scottish universities have been rising over recent years and have reached an all-time high of 8,820 first year students from EU countries in the past academic year.
Spanish student Jois Gonzalez explained that tuition fees were one of the reasons she had chosen The University of Edinburgh over an English university for her English literature degree.
She said: “Scottish universities are very active in Spain. When I was in school, they have been actively promoting going to Scotland to study.”
Gonzalez also claimed that for foreign students, the application process is easier in Scotland than in England.
Both Universities UK and NUS have claimed that foreign students who avoid England provide a problem for English universities.
Dandridge said: “Although the UK is one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students, it is our competitor countries that are seeing large rises in international student numbers. We must do all we can to welcome genuine students who wish to study here.
“We do not want to lose our leading position as a destination for the increasing numbers of students who want a higher education overseas.”
Paudel added: “The UK urgently needs to move towards a system that welcomes international students instead of watching on silently while global competitors welcome them with open arms.”