'Fashionable' courses may attract higher tuition fees

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Ministers were coming under increased pressure last night to charge students who opt to study "fashionable" subjects such as psychology or media studies higher university fees.

Ministers were coming under increased pressure last night to charge students who opt to study "fashionable" subjects such as psychology or media studies higher university fees.

The move is being advocated by a leading academic researcher in the wake of this year's A-level results, which showed their popularity rising at the expense of science subjects and languages.

Professor Alan Smithers, head of the Centre of Education and Employment at Buckingham University, who has often done research for the Government, said it would help to avoid a potential shortage of recruits to subjects such as medicine and teaching when top-up fees are introduced in 2006.

Yesterday's A-level results confirmed the trend away from traditional academic subjects. The take-up of psychology increased by 11.9 per cent to 12,381, while media studies went up 11.2 per cent to 24,179. German went down 8.1 per cent to 6,950 - and the biggest fall amid a general drop in science was physics, which went down by 6.5 per cent to 4,751.

"I have no objection to students opting for courses like pyschology and media studies," said Professor Smithers. "However, I do think it would be legitimate to charge them higher fees if they wished to pursue the subject at university.

"There is nothing wrong with the Government trying to gerrymander the study of subjects which it feels are essential for the future of the nation, like, say, persuading more students to study to become doctors. One way it could do this would be by allowing universities to charge more for courses which are not considered essential for our future."

Professor Smithers said it was obvious that some subjects should be encouraged, such as science and medicine. "In Iceland, it used to always be said that the Government there needed to be sure to train at least three vulcanologists [to spot potential problems with volcanos] - one for watching things during the day, one for watching things during the night and the third to take over when either of the first two were on holiday," he added.

"I appreciate that our needs might be a little more difficult to fulfil but it should be possible for the Government to sort our priorities out."

Meanwhile, Ucas, the university and colleges admissions system, reported that record numbers of students had had their university places confirmed by last night. The first few hours saw 267,442 youngsters with their place confirmed, compared with just 249,400 in the same time last year. However, the number eligible for clearing is also up - by 5.7 per cent this time to 89,833.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of Ucas, said: "The whole process has been fantastically speeded up through the use of a range of electronic devices."

School on hit list of failures enters top 100

A comprehensive was celebrating becoming one of the top 100 non-selective state schools last night, a month after being put on the hit list of failing schools by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog.

Armthorpe School, a 900-pupil 11-to-18 school in a former mining community in Doncaster, achieved record A-level results for the second year running.

It said the decision to place it on the list had been met with "immense incomprehension".

The school scored 300 points per pupil, equivalent to two A-grades and a D each. All 26 taking A-levels will go to university. One, Helen Turner, was given four A-grade passes and will study to be a physiotherapist. The school's results put it third out of the 17 secondary schools in Doncaster.

Inspectors told the school last month it did not have high enough expectations of its pupils.