Students flock to study Middle East culture

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The Independent Online

A rising number of teenagers are opting for degrees in Middle Eastern studies as the war in Iraq heightens young people's desire to understand the region, a survey by The Independent has found.

A rising number of teenagers are opting for degrees in Middle Eastern studies as the war in Iraq heightens young people's desire to understand the region, a survey by The Independent has found.

Universities have reported a marked rise in applications to study the languages, cultures and history of the Middle East. The increase in demand has been so swift that some institutions have had to turn away late applicants with A-grades.

Nick Page, deputy registrar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, said: "We have had a bumper year with a 12 per cent rise in applicants. We have had particularly high interest in a new course in Arabic cultural studies, which focuses less on the language and more on understanding the culture."

This summer A-level results rose to a record level, with the pass rate reaching 96 per cent and 22.4 per cent of entries gaining an A-grade - up from 21.6 per cent last year.

The survey of all 150 universities in the UK by The Independent found many had raised their entry requirements as a result of improved results.

Manchester University also reported a "considerable" rise in demand for courses in its Middle Eastern studies department, compared with last year. A spokesman said: "Normal grade requirements for courses in this department were BBB before clearing. But in the last week, demand has been so high that we have had to reject people with A-grades. Courses have filled up far quicker than last year - especially through clearing."

Degrees in Middle Eastern studies are popular for their breadth - encompassing literature, history, language learning and cultural studies.

The growth in popularity of Middle Eastern studies comes after it was revealed that many universities still had vacancies on American studies courses as people shied away from courses that might label them pro-US in the wake of the war in Iraq.

Last week, 28 universities still had American studies places unfilled, according to a report. They included places at Essex, Keele, Kent and Swansea.

Falling demand has already prompted five universities to close their American studies departments, and other institutions have cut staff. Keele, which has traditionally had the highest-regarded American studies department, has halved its staff.

Conversely, television crime dramas, such as Silent Witness, have fuelled a rise in applications for studies in forensic science, criminology and psychology, the survey found.

At the University of Northumbria, criminology and forensic science applications have more than doubled on last year. Miriam Clift, the university's admissions officer, said: "Even though the rise may be caused by TV programmes, any interest in science can only be a good thing and so this is very positive."

Dr Kathy England, recruitment officer for science and engineering at Manchester University, said: "A lot of students aspire to be the next Cracker, a character from Waking the Dead or a Big Brother psychologist.

"Unfortunately we haven't seen the same glamorisation of physics," she added.

Additional research by Nikhita Mahajan, Katya Krylova and Jasper Jackson

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