The study of engineering, manufacturing and construction is less popular at universities in Britain than in other European Union countries, according to a report from Eurostat, the EU's statistical agency.
It says that just 9.9 per cent of UK graduates obtained degrees in these subjects, well below the EU average of 14.6 per cent and much lower than countries such as Sweden (21.9 per cent) and Finland (20.4 per cent), where these courses are most favoured.
Using the latest available comparative figures (2000 and 2001), Eurostat showed that other large EU countries have a significant margin over Britain in graduate numbers. Germany has 17 per cent, France 15.1 per cent and Italy 15.4 per cent.
Britain is also unusual in that, along with Ireland, it does "not have higher percentages of graduates for engineering than for science", compared with the rest of the EU, the report says. It adds that the ten eastern and southern European countries joining the EU in May also have more engineering than science graduates.
However, some new entrants have smaller proportions of graduates studying engineering, manufacturing and construction than the UK. Greek Cyprus has 6.4 per cent, Latvia 7.1 per cent, Malta 5.1 per cent and Poland 9.5 per cent; they also have fewer science students than the UK.
By contrast, Britain has a relatively healthy proportion of science graduates (13 per cent of all qualifying students) compared with the EU average of 11.1 per cent.
The study also examined gender balances among graduates, highlighting, for instance, that the proportion of female graduates is higher in EU accession states than in current EU members for science (48 per cent versus 41 per cent) and engineering (26 per cent and 21 per cent respectively).
Portugal, Italy, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are the only countries among both the old and new EU where more women than men graduate in these subjects (proportions range from 52 to 59 per cent).