Tony Tysome finds maths and sciences surprisingly popular as number of would-be students rockets
Admissions staff this week admitted to being baffled by a sudden and unexpected surge in the popularity of core sciences, mathematics and engineering, which has helped lift the number of applications for undergraduate places across the UK by 6.4 per cent.
The latest statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service on applications to join full-time degree courses, published this week, show double-figure percentage rises compared with the same time last year for physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and technology.
The number of applications to study many vocational subjects, including management studies, social work, business, sports science, tourism and marketing, also grew significantly.
"Softer" arts and humanities subjects, including English, drama, media studies, music, dance and fine art, have done well, too, the data reveal.
The rises helped lift the number of applications received by January 15 up to a record 395,307, compared with 371,683 last year.
Most of the increases are concentrated in English pre-92 universities, some of which have seen the number of applications rocket by as much as 40 per cent overall, and by more than that in sciences.
The number of applications for places at English institutions leapt 7.2 per cent. The rise in Scotland was a far more modest 1.9 per cent, while Wales and Northern Ireland saw almost no change.
The biggest jump in the number of applications, 7.1 per cent, came from students from England; the number applying from elsewhere in the UK is similar to last year. Among UK applicants, the number of mature students aged 21 to 24 who applied for places climbed by 11.4 per cent, compared with a 5.7 per cent rise among the under-21s.
The number of applications from abroad is up by 6.6 per cent overall. The Chinese have returned (up 1.3 per cent), while numbers from other key nations continue to grow: India (up 13.8 per cent), Singapore (9.5 per cent) and Pakistan (19.1 per cent).
News that the sector appears to have bounced back from the worrying 3.4 per cent dip in applications in 2006 has left admissions tutors elated but baffled.
Some have suggested that the sudden change in fortune is down to prospective students and their parents recognising that higher education is affordable now that payment of fees is deferred.
Others believe that the surge in the core sciences is due partly to students beginning to see such subjects as "quasi-vocational" and a route into a well-paid job.
Nick Talbot is head of biosciences at Exeter University, where the number of applications has risen by 23 per cent. He said: "There seems to be an enthusiasm for science among applicants that we have not seen for quite a few years. I guess some of it may be down to more vocational subjects being favoured following the introduction of fees."
Anthony Keeble is admissions tutor at Reading University, where the number of applications has bounced back from a 17.3 per cent drop last year to a rise of about 3 per cent this year. He said the number of applications to study science subjects at Reading had climbed by 10 per cent despite the university's high-profile closure of its physics department.
"Really, we have no idea what has happened to bring about this turnaround," he said.
- Tourism 30.3%
- Business 25.0%
- Vet medicine 22.4%
- Finance 20.3%
- Education 19.5%
- Anatomy 18.1%
- Info systems 9.7%
- Medical tech 8.0%
- Science/arts 7.2%
- Forensic sci 4.1%
Welsh vice-chancellors were putting on a brave face this week as it emerged that Wales has suffered a small drop in applications while numbers in England and Scotland have risen.
Applications both to Welsh institutions and from people living in Wales had fallen by 0.1 per cent as of January 15, compared with the same time last year.
The decline could be explained by the fact that Welsh higher education institutions will charge top-up fees from this autumn.
The Welsh Assembly Government had hoped to lessen the impact of the new fee charges by offering special grants for Welsh students who chose to study at Welsh institutions.
The number of applications received by Ucas as of January 15, and the percentage change compared with the previous year
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