Confidence grows in new diplomas
Since the Government's expansion of university places and A-level participation, "soft" subjects have burgeoned: many pupils take subjects such as travel and tourism and media studies.
According to figures held by the Russell Group, 93 per cent of media studies students and 86 per cent of psychology students came from non-selective schools in 2006.
Despite the increasing relevance of these subjects and a boom in related degree courses, elite institutions see them as inferior to subjects such as maths, modern languages or physics, despite government claims that they are of equal difficulty.
The advent of the new diplomas will be the next big test for the system. By 2013, it is hoped every pupil will have the chance to study one from 17 subjects, with the most advanced diploma being equivalent to 3.5 A-levels.
But early last year, Alan Johnson, then education secretary, said diplomas risked being seen as second-class, especially as GCSEs and A-levels are being retained. He described how a party of Russell Group vice-chancellors "looked at their shoes and shuffled around a bit" at the mention of diplomas.
But some older universities have since voiced their support for the new qualifications, including Leeds, Exeter and Warwick. The Government has set a target of 50 per cent of young people going to university by 2010. At present, the proportion is about 43 per cent.
The cost of delivering diplomas
* Running a partnership: pound;198,000 to pound;476,000
* Developing collaborative learning: pound;560 to pound;242,250
* Delivering programmes: pound;1,337 to pound;1,716 per student.