Strain of AS-level blamed for fall in maths degree applications

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The Independent Online

Applications for university courses in maths and computing have slumped, while more students want to study history and medicine, official figures published yesterday show.

Applications for university courses in maths and computing have slumped, while more students want to study history and medicine, official figures published yesterday show.

The number of students applying to read mathematics is down by 11.6 per cent on last year and interest in studying information systems has fallen by 9.1 per cent, despite an overall increase of 2 per cent in university applications.

The figures, released by Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show a rise in applications for history degrees, which are up 15 per cent, medicine, up 15.1 per cent, and cinematics and photography, up 14 per cent.

Teachers and academics blamed problems with the first year of AS-level mathematics for the drop in interest in most maths-related courses. Physics applications have also fallen, by 9.2 per cent; computer science by 5.5 per cent; and all areas of engineering by between 2.5 per cent and 3.8 per cent.

Last year, 30 per cent of the first AS-level maths candidates failed the course, which was introduced in September 2000. An official investigation discovered that many students had found the pace of the course unmanageable.

For the next two years, schools will be allowed to enter pupils for a unit of the AS paper in the autumn term of their second year in the sixth form, to give them more time to complete the course.

But headteachers and the Opposition warned yesterday that more had to be done to encourage students to apply for maths-related degree courses.

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said the fall could jeopardise Britain's international competitiveness. "Hopes that we could recruit vitally needed engineers were dashed as figures show a decline in every area of engineering," he said.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said teacher shortages in maths and science had led to fewer students becoming enthusiastic about the subjects. "This year we are also seeing the results of the AS-level maths disaster last summer. For the sake of the economy we must break into this vicious cycle," he said.

Overall, degree applications rose by 2 per cent, from 390,626 to 398,423. The most pronounced rise, 5.5 per cent, was in Scotland. Margaret Hodge, the Higher Education minister, was pleased with the steady rise in applications. "It is great that more students are looking to aim higher," she said.

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