A drop in the number of people taking up places to study traditional science subjects is revealed by this week's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures, coinciding with the launch of Science Year.
This autumn will see 7.7 per cent fewer chemistry students than last year, 1.2 per cent fewer biology students, and 0.6 per cent fewer physicists. Microbiology dropped 14 per cent, civil engineering 6.9 per cent and chemical engineering 3 per cent.
In contrast, the uptake of computer systems engineering places rose almost 50 per cent.
Nigel Paine, director of Science Year, said the number of women entering physics was "shockingly low" and said that getting more women and ethnic minorities into pure science was a priority.
Science Year is targeted at ten to 19-year-olds, but Professor Paine said the contribution from higher education was critical: "We have a long-term perspective and our legacy is very important."
The Science Ambassadors scheme will see science students and graduates returning to schools to inspire young people to follow a science career.
Science Year will push for better careers advice in schools. It will also work with science education departments at several universities, in particular to devise new AS-level syllabuses such as neuroscience.