THE number of Chinese students at the University of Sussex has increased almost seven-fold in the past five years.

The University of Sussex had 829 permanent Chinese students in the 2013/14 academic year compared to just 142 five years earlier.

British students now make up less than half the number of postgraduates at the university.

University officials denied that the increasing numbers created an effective brain drain away from the UK where overseas students take back the knowledge and skills picked up at UK universities to boost their homeland economy.

The university has 1196 UK students in the current academic year out of a total of 2585 full-time postgraduates from 104 different countries including Afghanistan, Palestine, Afghanistan and Burma.

In 2008/9 the proportion of UK post-graduates was two-thirds of all students.

While the number of Chinese students is rapidly increasing, the number of students coming from India has declined equally dramatically with almost half the number of Indian postgraduates, 49, in 2013/14 compared to 88 in 2008/9.

A University of Sussex spokesman said that the drop was believed to be because the UK was no longer considered a “welcoming destination” by Indians in part because of the way that immigration was discussed in the national media.

Trends were less clear at the University of Brighton where the proportion of UK postgraduates has remained higher and more stable.

Two-thirds of the university’s postgraduate population were UK nationals in 2008/9 which has dropped only marginally in the past five years.

A University of Sussex spokesman said: “Overseas students make a very direct contribution to the UK's economy through the fees they pay, which are generally higher than home students' fees, and the money they spend when they are here.

“Our higher education system would suffer hugely if that income was lost.

“Top quality higher education, such as that offered at Sussex, is increasingly international with more and more Sussex students spending time abroad as part their course and employers increasingly looking for international experience.

“Our long term economic success depends on global economic growth – so strengthening the international economy is to the benefit of us all by creating new markets for the high-technology products and services which are the UK's economic future.”

A University of Brighton spokesman said: “We do not pursue a strategy that would lead to any one particular student nationality group dominating a course, hence the diverse student community at Brighton.

“Our approach, we firmly believe, maximises the learning experience for all our students and ensures we maintain a multicultural learning environment.”