However the study also found that prospective humanities students – unlike those from other subject areas – do not switch to other courses when the economic environment worsens, possibly because they are from richer families who can support them through unemployment.
The paper, Does risk matter ?A semiparametric model for educational choices in the presence of uncertainty, by Jacopo Mazza, a lecturer in economics at the University of Manchester, is to be presented at this week’s annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, which starts today.
It finds that a 10 per cent increase in economic uncertainty leads to a 19 per cent drop in the likelihood that young people will opt for a degree in the social sciences, although this subject area still provides better job security during recession than the humanities.
But this effect is not seen with the humanities because such students can call on family resources in difficult times, the paper suggests.
Because some degree areas are riskier than others, this could provide justification for some kind of public insurance scheme against graduate unemployment, Dr Mazza says.
“This form of risk sharing could foster social mobility by allowing students from economically disadvantaged families to feel less constrained in the choice of university degree,” he argues.
Another paper presented at the conference finds that a change in a university department’s league table position has a significant impact on the number of applications it can expect to receive.
An improvement in a newspaper’s UK university table will trigger roughly a 5 per cent rise in applications, according to Subject Specific League Tables and Students’
Application Decisions by Xiaoxuan Jia and Arnaud Chevalier of Royal Holloway, University of London.
International, business and law students are particularly affected by a shift in position, according to the paper.