Russell Group universities shun 'soft subjects'

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The Independent Online

A group of top universities published guidance today revealing a preference for students who take traditional A-levels.

The Russell Group of 20 leading universities lists the so-called "facilitating" subjects for gaining a place as maths, English, geography, history, biology, chemistry, physics and classical or modern foreign languages.

The guide, Informed Choices, states that even where these choices are not specified as required subjects, universities may still have a preference for them.

It warns: "If you decide not to choose some of the facilitating subjects at advanced level, many degrees at competitive universities will not be open to you."

And it asks students to question why they are not taking traditional subjects: "Are you trying to avoid a challenge?"

The guide, the group's first for post-16 subject choices, says students who decide to take more than one "soft" subject should be cautious.

It lists examples as media studies, art and design, photography and business studies, and suggests the "soft" subjects are those with a vocational or practical bias.

Russell Group director general Dr Wendy Piatt said: "All students - particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds-must have access to appropriate information and guidance about the choices that will maximise or reduce their opportunities and life chances from an early age.

"Achievement at school is the key to increasing your chances of winning a place at a leading university. But choosing the best subjects at GCSE and A-level is also crucial.

"It is really important that students do not disadvantage themselves by choosing a combination of subjects at A-level which will not equip them with the appropriate skills and knowledge for their university course or which may not demonstrate effectively their aptitude for a particular subject.

"Informed Choices emphasises the importance of 'facilitating' subjects, such as maths and English, which are particularly effective in equipping students with the skills they need for a large number of competitive courses and in increasing a student's chances of getting on to those courses."

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of educational charity the Sutton Trust, said: "Subject choice during the sixth form years is one of the key decisions teenagers make in their lives-determining their future university and life prospects.

"We welcome this new guide and hope that it will help bright non-privileged students in particular, who all too often do not receive the support and guidance they need at this key juncture in their lives."

Universities minister David Willetts said: "It is crucial that all potential students have access to timely and comparable information about choosing the best course for them.

"It is also an important development in helping people make the right choices early on so they can pursue their chosen career.

"Improving information for prospective students is a priority for the Government, and will form a key part of our plans for higher education.

"We are committed to making information clearer for students from all backgrounds, to improve access to the most selective universities."

Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of exams regulator Ofqual, said: "In December I challenged the higher education sector to give applicants better information about which qualifications they need to win a place at university.

"Students are not clairvoyants. They need clear information on which qualifications they need for their chosen university courses so they can make informed decisions.

"Today's report from the Russell Group is an excellent step in the right direction." #

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "I warned the last government for years that state school children were being misled about qualifications. A generation have been betrayed by Labour ministers who denied poorer children the chance to go to top universities.

"This Government is making opportunities more equal by supporting schools to teach rigorous subjects universities value.

"It's only by putting more of an emphasis on subjects like maths, science and modern foreign languages that our children will be able to flourish in the 21st century.

"Labour's opposition to our modernisation of education reveals how out of touch they still are."