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AS chaos hits maths degree

Applications to study mathematics at university have dropped following huge AS-level failures. Julie Henry reports

THE number of sixth formers applying to study maths at university has plummeted following disastrous AS-level maths results last summer.

Figures released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that 12,000 more teenagers have applied for university places this year, a 4 per cent increase overall.

But the number applying to study maths has dropped by more than 12 per cent. The fall-off is bigger than in any other subject.

The TES revealed last year that 16,500 students failed the new maths AS-level - more than double the average failure rate. The crisis led to an inquiry by the Government's exam watchdog.

Maths experts warned that thousands of able candidates would drop the subject rather than go on to take the full A-level. And they predicted that, as fewer people went on to study at degree level, university maths departments could be under threat of closure.

A total of 18,588 students have applied to study the subject at university this year, a drop of more than 2,200 on last year.

Doug French, the Mathematical Association teaching committee chair, said:

"This drop is directly related to the high failure rate in the summer. It is not just weak candidates giving up after AS, able students have dropped the subject too. It is a real problem."

Attempts by ministers to solve the crisis, published as part of the review of A-level reforms, have been described as too little too late.

The content of AS maths is being reviewed but changes will not come into effect until the 2004 exams. An extra exam has been bolted on for this year and 2003 which will give candidates the chance to sit a module in the autumn term rather than do all three in the summer.

Mr French said maths departments in less popular universities could find it hard to survive the lean years before the changes have a chance to boost the numbers studying the subject.

Maths experts want the AS-level to be made up of two rather than three modules and restrictions on the use of calculators and formula sheets relaxed.

According to UCAS, other subjects which declined in popularity this year were marketing, down 6 per cent, and chemistry, down 3 per cent.

Degree courses which increased in popularity included medicine, English, nursing and physics.

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