Britain is the most popular destination for young people educated in southern European countries which have been hardest hit by the sovereign-debt crisis dogging the eurozone.
The rise will drive concerns that British students may face added competition in the race for degree courses at top universities this summer.
Undergraduates from other European Union countries are eligible for the same Government-backed loans as British students and count towards strict limits on the numbers of places available at each institution.
The disclosure is revealed in a report by Study Portals, an EU-funded website set up to help young people apply to university courses elsewhere in the continent.
According to figures, the number of enquiries made through the website from Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese students has soared by 80,000 in 2012 compared with a year earlier.
Demand to study outside their own country is up by more than 180 per cent among Italian students, 162 per cent from Greeks, 157 per cent from Spaniards and 140 per cent from Portuguese students.
The study said the figures reflected the link “between students’ economic perspectives at home and their ambition to study – and ultimately work – in better performing economies”.
It emerged that the four countries have higher youth unemployment rates than almost anywhere else in Europe, with the proportion of jobless young people ranging from more than a third in Portugal to 52 per cent in Greece.
According to researchers, Britain is the most popular destination among these students.
British universities accounted for 26 per cent of total enquiries from the four countries, it was revealed. This compared with a fifth of applications being made to Dutch universities and less than one-in-10 enquiries made to German and Swedish institutions.
The increase recorded in the study comes despite evidence that the total number of applications made to Britain from across the EU has dropped this year.
In July, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said that total demand was down by 13 per cent – 6,132 – this year compared with 2011, although the data failed to provide a country-by-country breakdown. This suggests that southern European countries may be bucking the trend.
It coincides with the introduction of higher tuition fees in September, with students paying up to £9,000 a year – almost three times maximum in 2011.