London, March 30: Britain has denied admission to over 700 international students from taking courses in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare subjects amid fears they might use the knowledge to build weapons of mass destruction, media reports said.
A total of 739 student applications, for a range science and engineering based courses, have been rejected to prevent extremists gaining access to the information and materials they need to develop nuclear and chemical weapons, The Telegraph reported.
The students, whose nationalities have not been made public, have been banned under the Academic Technology Approval Scheme.
The scheme was launched by the government in 2007 to vet students from outside the EU when they apply to certain science courses which could be used to make weapons of mass destruction. But MPs have criticised the limits of the measure which does not extend to British-born students, the report said.
The chairman of the Committee on Arms Exports Controls, Sir John Stanley, said: "The fact 739 students have had to be barred indicates this is grounds for serious concern." "It is extraordinary given the threat we face for the Government to go on refusing to extend this to those in the UK," Stanley was quoted as saying by the Sun.
Close to 700 international students' applications were rejected
According to the Foreign Office, 20,000 applications were made under the scheme by would-be foreign students last year.
Last month, it launched a new website to make the scheme more accessible after fending off criticism by a House of Lords report which said the scheme was contributing to UK universities' struggle to recruit international students.
Tobias Ellwood, the Coalition's minister for counter proliferation, said: "The UK's higher education sector is important to the British economy and it is important that we get the balance right between meeting our international security commitments and supporting our higher education institutions."
The number of Western citizens who have gone to join the Islamic State militant group is now estimated to have reached 3,400.
A number of notorious foreign extremists and weapons experts have boasted of learning their skills in UK colleges and universities. Rihab Taha, dubbed 'Dr Germ', who worked on Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programme, studied for her PhD in plant toxins at East Anglia University's School of Biological Sciences in Norwich between 1980 and 1984.
The UK has some of the most sophisticated laboratories in the world where some of the most cutting edge research is conducted.
Five girls at an East London secondary school were made subject to a travel ban this week after three fellow pupils disappeared in mid-February and allegedly traveled to Syria to join IS.