Variable top-up fees may drive students away from science courses already facing a recruitment crisis, the Royal Society warned this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.
The chair of the society's education committee, Alistair MacFarlane, issued a statement saying that if universities were able to charge higher fees for science courses, which are typically much costlier to run than other subjects, it could seriously heighten their unpopularity.
Professor MacFarlane said the society's concern was "acute". He told The THES : "I think there will be an enormous difference in the ways in which institutions react, but it could lead to an acceleration of the trend."
Figures published by the society indicate a downward trend in applications to study physical science as a first degree - Jbetween 1995-96 and 2001-02, undergraduate numbers fell by 31 per cent in chemistry, 13 per cent in physics and 8 per cent in engineering.
Education secretary Charles Clarke said that low-cost courses such as English would pay for high-cost subjects. He added that the government would continue to subsidise expensive courses.