The report from Brunel University on trends in higher education, which is being presented to Sir Ron Dearing's higher education review, shows that business studies and psychology have also grown rapidly but engineering, physics and languages lag far behind.
Leisure and tourism which was not even counted in 1986 now takes more than 1,000 students a year.
Professsor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson show that 21.3 per cent of design graduates are still unemployed six months after they complete their degrees. The figure for media studies graduates is 15.2 per cent. That compares with just 0.2 per cent for medicine, 6.1 per cent for law and 9.5 per cent for French.
The report for the Council for Industry in Higher Education says: "Academic subjects like physics have hardly grown at all and have struggled to hold the best A-level students, whereas psychology has trebled, attracting some of the brightest A-level students.
"On the vocational side, there has been an attempt to expand engineering and technology but that has not succeeded, largely because it has outrun the supply of suitably qualified students. It attracts fewer of the top A-level students now than ten years ago." To study medicine and veterinary science students still need top A-level grades. Law comes next followed by languages and subjects such as English and History.
Those with lower grades tend to aim for education, agriculture, computer science, architecture and business studies.
Degree classes vary sharply according to subject. In maths, physics and engineering there are more firsts and thirds. In the humanities and languages, most students bunch together in the middle.
There have been few changes in the social composition of university entrants over the decade. The percentage of those from manual backgrounds has risen only from 23 to 28 per cent and the proportion from ethnic minorities from 11 per cent in 1990 to 13 per cent.
But these changes are largely explained by the polytechnics' acquisition of the title of university.
The number of mature students has doubled but most university entrants still come in through the traditional A-level route. In the "old" universities rather than the former polytechnics, 85 per cent still have A-level or the equivalent.
Overall just 10.8 per cent have vocational qualifications while access courses which provide a route into higher education for those who left school without enough qualifications for university account for 16.3 per cent.
Since the polytechnics, with their vocational tradition, became universities, more undergraduates are on employment-related courses.
Given the high unemployment rates in some of these subjects, say the researchers, it is questionable how far they are truly employment-related .
"In a period of popular higher education, a degree irrespective of subject can no longer be regarded as a passport to a job."Reuse content