The number of candidates opting to study social sciences at university has slumped dramatically, early indications for next year show.
Figures reveal a drop of 20 per cent compared with this academic year – from around 71,000 students to just under 57,000. Academics believe a key reason could be that students are opting for courses that will reap them a higher cash dividend once they seek employment – now they are faced with paying fees of up to £9,000 a year.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, announced the figures at a seminar held at the British Academy to discuss how humanities and social sciences were faring under the new fees regime. She stressed it was too soon to draw a conclusion, but said: "We may be moving into an environment where students believe utilitarian outcomes are much more important."
The social sciences' 20 per cent drop compares with a 14 per cent drop in applications overall. Applications for humanities courses appear to be doing slightly better with a 12 per cent drop from 121,026 to 106, 731. The so-called "Stem" subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are faring better with a fall of 11 per cent.
The Universities minister David Willetts, addressing the seminar, said the Government, had been "scrupulously neutral between different disciplines" in determining budget cuts.
He argued that the humanities and social sciences had suffered less of a cut that the Stem subjects. At present, they receive just over £2,000 a year for teaching costs compared with £10,000 for the Stem subjects. Under the new regime, they would lose the £2,000 while those getting £10,000 would suffer a much larger cut of close to £7,000.
He added that funding for universities currently came 60 per cent from the Government and 40 per cent from private sources, but the changes would mean the balance would shift to around 40:60.
In a booklet last week, Professor A C Grayling, master of the New College for the Humanities, argued that a strong humanities sector was essential in developing leadership. Professor Grayling's research showed MPs had the largest percentage of humanities graduates while management at the Russell Group universities had the lowest among professional bodies.