Ucas data give hope to troubled subjects

October 27, 2006

Science degrees have survived the introduction of top-up fees with more ease than many in the arts.

Universities accepted more chemistry students this year than in any year since 1999 and 3.7 per cent more than in 2005.

Tutors accepted 2.7 per cent more mathematics students and roughly the same number of physics students as last year. This reverses more than five years of decline in both subjects, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures show.

Complementary medicine has proved a big hit this year, with universities accepting 625 students on courses - 36.5 per cent more than last year.

Only biology, of the main sciences, was down, by 11.7 per cent.

Among the arts, French and American studies have slumped, with universities accepting 14.3 per cent and 25.6 per cent fewer students respectively than this time last year.

Combinations within business and administrative studies have increased 10.7 per cent, with 6,685 students accepted on courses.

Tina Overton, senior chemistry lecturer at Hull University and director of the Higher Education Academy's physical sciences subject centre, said the data showed that some sciences were turning a corner. She said: "The fact that physics acceptances have stayed constant is good news because there has been a downward trend.

"I think that outreach activities in schools, which try to encourage pupils to think about taking science at universities, are starting to make an impact.

"These figures are also likely to show that students may be recognising that they will have better career options if they take a science route."

Michael Grove, manager of the subject centre for maths and statistics, urged academics in the sciences not to be too optimistic.

Professor Grove said: "I would be cautious until we see how many students are on the courses."

Heads of French departments blamed the Government for the fall in the number of acceptances for their subject.

Tim Unwin, head of French at Bristol University, said: "This will mean that several departments will almost certainly be under threat of closure."

Professor Unwin said: "Languages are no longer compulsory for 14 to 18-year-olds and that has led to them being downgraded in pupils' eyes."

Martyn Cornick, head of French studies at Birmingham University, said:

"What is wrong with an element of compulsion in our National Curriculum, particularly with key subjects? Our European partners thrive very well indeed on compulsory language learning."

Admissions ups and downs


Biggest increases compared with last year

  • Complementary medicine +36.5%
  • Combinations within mass communications and documentation +15.5%
  • Others in technology +15.3%
  • Preclinical veterinary medicine +12.5%
  • Combinations within business and admin studies +10.7%


Biggest decreases compared with last year

  • Others in mass communications and documentation - 32.1%
  • American studies - 25.6%
  • Production and manufacturing engineering - 21.1%
  • Law by topic - 17.4%
  • French studies - 14.3%

Complementary medicine is a coming subject. More than a third more students have been accepted on undergraduate degrees this year compared with last year.

Next year, 15 universities will offer a BSc in the subject - which appears under various guises, from herbal medicine to complementary health sciences.

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the universities of Plymouth and Exeter, said that 30 per cent of university complementary medicine courses had started in the past year.

But he has doubts about whether the subject is an academic pursuit.

He said: "I find very little academic evidence to back some of the treatments. Some would argue that it shouldn't be taught at university.

"The expansion of the courses is linked to the fact that universities today are run more and more like factories, there to make money."

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