The number of new international graduate students enrolling in universities in the United States appears to have rebounded slightly this fall after three years of decline.

The figure rose 1 percent compared with a year ago, the Council of Graduate Schools said in a new report. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the numbers fell 8 percent in 2002, 10 percent in 2003 and 3 percent in 2004.

"A 1 percent increase is suggestive of probably nothing more than that the large dips we saw over the last three years not occurring," said Heath Brown, director of research and policy analysis at the CGS. "That's a positive sign. But we're certainly not rebounded to the pre-2002 levels."

Experts blamed the sudden drop in interest among international students in attending U.S. graduate programs after the 2001-02 school year on several factors, including visa delays, anti-Americanism and sharper competition from universities in other countries.

The trend alarmed university administrators and makers of foreign policy because universities depend on foreign students for teaching and research -- especially in the sciences. They also were concerned because educating international students, who then return home with a positive, firsthand experience of the United States, is seen as an important foreign-policy tool.

Educators said the departments of State and Homeland Security have streamlined visa approvals, and many universities have stepped up recruiting, which has at least leveled off the decline.

The survey, being officially released today, is an initial report. But the 125 universities that responded include most large graduate schools.

Enrollment of students from China and India -- the two largest sources of foreign students -- rose 3 percent each. Enrollment from Middle Eastern countries rose 11 percent.

About 1.5 million graduate students were enrolled in U.S. universities last year, according to CGS. About 225,000 of them came from other countries.