Students switch off science in favour of media studies

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The Independent Online

Students are turning away from science and engineering degrees in favour of courses in media and film studies, according to official figures published yesterday.

Scientists and employers described the trend as "extremely worrying" and warned that teenagers turning their backs on scientific subjects could be limiting their job prospects.

Although a record number of students embarked on university courses in September and October, the number starting degrees in environmental or physical science dropped by almost 10 per cent while those on chemistry courses were down 7.6 per cent. Civil engineering admissions dropped 5.3 per cent and numbers of mechanical engineering recruits were 5 per cent lower than in 2000, final figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) showed.

The largest rises in enrolment were seen in media studies, which rose 22.1 per cent; cinematics, up 16.5 per cent; nursing, up 15.8 per cent, and music, up 15.3 per cent.

Lord May of Oxford, the President of the Royal Society, warned young people not to underestimate the value of a science degree, arguing that the skills learned would be valued in careers "from journalism to stockbroking".

The Ucas chief executive, Tony Higgins, welcomed the increase in full-time undergraduates, which saw a total of 358,041 students starting full-time undergraduate courses, up about 18,000 from the 339,747 who enrolled in 2000. Entrants to all degree courses rose by 5.6 per cent, from 311,635 in 2000 to 329,218 in 2001.

He said: "Normally, we expect to see a rise of about 1.5 per cent each year in the number of people accepting places at UK universities and colleges.

"This year's unprecedented rise is a welcome one and a sign that national initiatives to widen participation are starting to bear fruit."

Margaret Hodge, the Higher Education minister, described the figures as "great news". She said: "There is still more to do to ensure that we increase the numbers of young people from lower-income backgrounds going on to higher education."