Page last updated at 04:56 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 05:56 UK

Maths and science 'end decline'

There has been a deliberate effort to increase student numbers in science

A 350m "rescue plan" to stop a decline in degree subjects including maths and science is succeeding, says the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

It forecasts a 7% increase for maths in 2009, which will mean about 7,000 students entering university maths departments, against 5,300 in 2005.

There are also expected increases of 3.5% for chemistry and 1.3% for physics in next year's university intake.

University Secretary John Denham says the changes are "encouraging".

However the increases have been against an overall rise in student numbers - and as a proportion of the intake, maths and science subjects have made only slight increases.

'Vulnerable' subject

From 2005-06, the funding council has been working to increase the numbers of students in "vulnerable" or strategically important subjects including science, technology, engineering, maths and modern languages.

A 29m scheme has seen more than 1,000 extra science and maths students entering university - but a 36m support for languages has seen French studies entrants rise only from 713 in 2005 to 780 in 2008.

There have been projects in school to promote interest in maths and science - which the funding council says are beginning to turn round a long-term decline.

"There is much more work to be done, but the future of these subjects looks much healthier than it did when our programme began three years ago," says Hefce's chief executive, David Eastwood.


The investment has included 15m in pilot projects to raise interest and improve accessibility of university courses and 100m to "sustain very high-cost and vulnerable science provision".

In 2005, figures from the university admissions service, Ucas, showed there were 5,263 people entering maths degree courses - which according to provisional figures has risen to 6,421 this autumn, with a further increase projected for 2009.

However as a proportion of students entering university there has been little change.

According to figures from Hefce, the proportion of students studying chemistry, physics and general engineering has risen by less than 1% between 2005 and 2008 - with maths rising by 1.42%.

In terms of the numbers being recruited - for 2007, the most recent year with complete figures - there were 5,195 beginning maths degrees, 3,907 chemistry and 3,228 physics.

The most popular subject areas for students beginning university this year have been law (17,000), design (16,000), psychology (15,000) and management (11,000).

By international standards, however, the UK has a relatively high proportion of students going into maths and science - above the average for both the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the funding council says that it took the strategic decision to further strengthen the numbers in these areas as a way of competing in a global economy.

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