High-achieving students study medicine, dentistry and classics while those with the lowest entry qualifications do social work, according to a survey released this week.
The work, by Derek Leslie, an economist at Manchester Metropolitan University, was based on all 2 million British students who applied for higher education through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service between 1996 and 2000.
Professor Leslie sought to identify a link between the quality of the candidate and the subject chosen. He identified 170 different subjects for this purpose.
He said: "Law is perceived as a difficult subject to get into but that is not the case (its ranking is 45). Classics attracts very high-quality people (it ranked second). There is a lot of diversity and no real divide between arts and sciences.
"Within broad subject groups, it is pure subjects rather than applied subjects that emerge best. For example, physics ranks 12th whereas environmental science ranks 115th. Maths ranks 8th whereas computer science ranks 129th, and so on.
"Education emerges with a low score. It is perhaps disappointing that those entrusted with the production of new human capital should be relatively poorly endowed relative to other participants within higher education.
"More people do business studies - but the quality of the people that do these subjects concerns me. If government designs policy, and it is the quality of the bums-on-seats that counts, then I hope my paper will give insight into that."
Using Success to Measure Quality in British Higher Education: Which Subjects Attract the Best-qualified Students? by Derek Leslie.
Other ancient languages
Other modern languages
Ceramics and glass
Other topics in education