Sun Zhi graduated from the mainland's Tsinghua University in 2002, a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Yet despite being awarded a scholarship from a US university, the computer science graduate was turned down by the US Embassy in Beijing for a visa. 'My classmates who graduated a year earlier than me all got their visas easily,' he said. 'It's all because of 9/11. Had I applied a year earlier, I would easily have got a visa.' Rejected on his second attempt, Mr Sun gave up his dream of continuing studies in the US, as have many classmates. Figures from the US Embassy in Beijing show a sharp decline in visas being granted between 2001, when 19,000 were approved, and last year, down to just 13,200. The number of students applying for this autumn term was down 45 per cent on last year, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools. However, an embassy official denied numbers were still falling and said they had even begun to rise - up 20 per cent - 'and should exceed 2003 levels by quite a bit' by the end of the fiscal year. The embassy also denied that security concerns in the wake of 9/11 were the main reason for the recent decline, citing other factors, including increased and improved educational opportunities at home. The spokesman said the mainland doubled undergraduate places in 1999 and applications had increased dramatically. Another trend affecting applications to US universities is increased competition from other countries such as Australia, Britain and Candida. Qu Yuan, a sociology student who graduated from Peking University this year, said many of her classmates were rejecting the US: 'There weren't many in my class applying to study in the US this year. Canada is cheaper and the UK requires a shorter time for a PhD degree, so many of my classmates are considering them.' She said only six of the 48 students in her class applied to US universities, and only one had been accepted.