British universities saw numbers of EU first-year students fall by over half in the last academic year, following Brexit, official statistics showed, prompting alarm from academics on Friday.

Since the departure from the European Union took full effect in January 2020, EU students must now pay higher fees to enter UK educational institutions.

In the academic year beginning autumn 2021, first-year enrolments from EU-based students dropped by 53 percent, the Higher Education Statistics Agency said in annual data released this month.

Numbers have fallen particularly sharply from Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece and Italy.

The authors attributed the "significant decrease" to "changes in fees eligibility" as EU students no longer pay the same as their UK counterparts but are liable for the full international rate, which can be three times higher.

Academics described the figures as a major loss after The Guardian highlighted them in a report on Friday.

Michael Smith, a professor in international relations at Aberdeen University in Scotland, tweeted that this was "such a huge loss for the UK's HigherEd sector, and a totally self-inflicted wound".

John Gallagher, an associate history professor at the University of Leeds, wrote that the figures were "sad news for anyone who thinks universities should be diverse, international, and welcoming".

Francesca Ciccarelli, professor of cancer genomics at King's College London, tweeted that this "absurd, self-inflicted damage should end soon or UK science will decline rapidly".

Enrolments of EU-domiciled students fell from 66,680 to 31,400.

Numbers of EU students enrolling in undergraduate courses fell most steeply, from nearly 40,000 to just under 15,000.

Overall, the total number of students starting UK courses rose two percent year-on-year.

This was fuelled by a rise in non-EU students enrolling in postgraduate studies, particularly one-year masters courses.

China sent more students to the UK than any other country.

A 2021 report found that England's universities contributed more than £95 billion ($117 billion) per year to the UK economy, helped by the fees and economic activity generated by foreign students.