A senior education official acknowledged Wednesday that China plans to reduce the number of its students sent to the United States but denied the reduction would be drastic or affect overall study abroad.

The official, Huang Xinbai, a senior member of China's State Education Commission, appeared to contradict some of the assurances given as late as last week to Western embassies in Beijing that policy toward study abroad had not changed.

Reports that the government plans sharp cutbacks in the ranks of Chinese allowed to study overseas have sparked protests among Chinese students in the United States.