Universities are axing science and technology degrees to make way for media studies, research has revealed.
The figures, likely to prove a blow for the government, show that the number of universities offering media studies as a degree has trebled in the the past 10 years, while physics has seen a steady downfall by nearly a third. According to figures published by the Higher Education Policy Institute report (HEPI), the number of chemistry degrees on offer has also dropped by a fifth.
The majority of engineering and technology subjects have also seen a "marked decrease", the think tank revealed.
In September last year, David Cameron outlined the coalition's plans for "excellence" in schools to allow Britain to compete within the world market.
“We’ve got to be ambitious if we want to compete in the world,” he said.
“When China is going through an educational renaissance, when India is churning out science graduates, any complacency now would be fatal.
“And we’ve got to be ambitious, too, if we want to mend our broken society. Because education doesn’t just give people the tools to make a good living – it gives them the character to live a good life, to be good citizens.”
However, the figures show that government plans have some way to go, with the popularity of media studies degrees rocketing, with the number of universities offering these degrees rising from 37 to 111 in the past decade.
"There have clearly been major changes in the balance of subject provision of undergraduate courses, notably a decline in Science and Technology subjects, alongside a significant increase in Creative and Performing Arts, Media Studies and Politics," the report observed.
Other significant shifts include:
- Chemistry is now taught in 66 institutions compared with 93, 15 years ago (down by 20%)
- Physics has seen a decrease from 69 to 47, a reduction of 32%
- Botany is now taught in just 11 institutions compared with 22 in 1996-7
- Politics has shown a marked increase, as have English, performing arts and journalism degrees
"All subjects in the physical sciences show a marked reduction inthe number of institutional providers, with the exception of Astronomy, the providers of which have more than doubled from a small base," the think tank adds.
"Physics and physicists play a crucial role in underpinning competitive high tech industry."
He blamed the decline in the number of universities offering physics degrees on the dwindling support for teaching laboratory-based subjects.
“This issue was addressed in 2007 and since then there have been no further closures, but we remain vigilant to ensure that nothing similar happens in the future," Main added.
Earlier this month, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts announced plans for a new institution focusing solely on science and technology to make Britain "the best place in the world" in the two subject fields.
Main continued to say: “Universities are also aware that demand for physics courses is growing, thanks to better physics teaching in schools and a popular rejuvenation of the subject, which is partly due to the efforts of Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili."
Despite the drive to promote science-based courses, many potential undergraduates may be disillusioned with last year's reports of the struggle to find work, adding to the decline in popularity of these courses.
As for the rise in media and performing arts courses, 24-year-old drama student Phoebe offered an explanation as to why the arts remained at the forefront of desirable degrees.
"I think a lot of people just want to do something they enjoy, especially as the fees have gone up. You don't want to spend three or more years stuck doing a degree you don't like just because you think it will get you a job at the end of it.
"I think a drama degree can equip you with as many skills as a science one can."