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Media degrees are in, physics is out

Susan Young reads between the lines of applications to courses this year. New subjects such as cinematics, media studies and mixed humanities courses are attracting the most dramatic rise in university applications this year.

Their success is at the continuing expense of engineering, teacher training, economics and physics where applications continue to dwindle, despite an overall increase in the number of would-be students.

The most marked rise - attracting more than 161 per cent more applications than last year - is in humanities, with other arts, closely followed by cinematics, up almost 128 per cent on 1994.

Other subjects attracting increased applications include physical education and leisure (up 62 per cent) and media studies (up by almost 60 per cent). Each prospective student entering the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has made 6.7 individual applications, on average.

Both electrical and electronic engineering show dramatic drops in applications, but some of the difference is accounted for by a reclassification of some courses, leading to a comparatively small rise in applications for combination degrees.

Applications for undergraduate teacher training appear to have fallen by more than a quarter, with the number of prospective students down from almost 23,000 last year to 16,889. However, UCAS believes much of this has been caused by PE teacher courses - until this year classified as teacher training - moving into a separate category with leisure management. UCAS cannot yet put a figure on the drop in real terms.

Professor Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Manchester University, said the proportion of 18-year-olds taking chemistry, maths and physics A-levels had remained static over the past30 years, despite the dramatic rise in overall A-level entry numbers.

Evidence showed that employers wanted good quality science graduates, rather than quantity, but Professor Smithers suggested there was an urgent need for more science-literate adults in the population.

"I am not 100 per cent sure we do need more scientists and engineers. What we do need is a better understanding of science . . . If we taught science literacy in higher education, one great benefit might be recruiting much better teachers." Such "scientific studies" graduates might be particularly useful as primary school teachers, firing an early enthusiasm.

To some extent applications reflect the changing profile of A-level choices. Last summer saw the biggest rise - 15 per cent - in what the examining boards call "all other subjects". These include film, theatre and media studies as well as sports and physical education. The trend towards vocational courses was demonstrated with a boom in business studies at the expense of economics, while physics continued its decline.

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