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Sciences and creative subjects are the latest COVID casualties, as 2021 HE students opt for more ‘secure’ degrees.

New research by higher education specialists shows that the applied and pure sciences and creative subjects are being snubbed by 2021 University students, as concerns for job security, entry requirements and quality of teaching influence course choices. In addition, qualitative research revealed that students are struggling with increased anxiety to perform, amidst a disrupted teaching and exam schedule. The pandemic has also worsened social inequality, with students wanting to access higher education from low income socio-economic backgrounds facing higher barriers to entry and minimised support from schools, parents, and Universities. 

New research by higher education specialists has revealed that the applied and pure sciences, such as physics and biology, and creative subjects, such as drama and art, are being snubbed by 2021 university students, as concerns for job security, entry requirements and quality of teaching influence course choices.  

 The research conducted by IDP Connect, is explored in a new report – Locked Down and Locked Out: The COVID-19 generation, avoiding a legacy of inequality. 

Subject analysis shows that in the past month, demand to study applied and pure science degrees in 2021 has fallen by 5%, the biggest drop of any subject group, to account for 22% of subject share.  Similarly, creative subjects have also experienced a drop in demand and now account for 12% of subject share, a decrease of 3% since July 2020.  

 Business, management and marketing courses are however, on the up, and since July have increased in demand by 7%, to account for 26% of subject share.  

Following the data findings around subject interest, qualitative research was undertaken and revealed that year 13 students are now more focused on pursuing studying options linked to secure job prospects, with all interviewees stating that this was now their primary goal for going to University. Course changes were also attributed to the disrupted teaching landscape of this year, with students concerned that they will not receive in-person learning, particularly relevant to subjects that require practical tuition in a shared setting, like an art studio, drama class, or science lab.  

Students are also concerned that they will perform poorly academically, due to the lost face-to-face learning and timetable disruption COVID-19 has caused, so are being more conservative with their degree choices.  

The mental health of students was also explored in the research, with the findings indicating that students feel a high degree of anxiety about how they will perform in their exams following a disrupted year of learning, and how they will be assessed. In light of the exam disruption, students also feel extreme pressure to perform consistently, which is contributing to their anxiety.    

Social inequality was an evident theme from the research, with schools noting they had to encourage C1/2 students more this year than ever to not completely abandon University ambitions, particularly those that would be first generation students. In addition, a higher proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups struggled to engage with online schooling and careers advice this year, and are more likely to question whether University is good value for money. On the other side of the fence, the research revealed that the majority of middle-class students still intend to go to University in 2021, a view supported by their parents. These students said they would be the second or third generation to go to University in their family.  

 IDP Connect is a division of IDP Education, global leaders in student marketing and recruitment. IDP Connect is truly embedded in the markets its educational partners operate in and gives them access to over 30 countries’ worth of in-market knowledge. It also has a trusted student audience of 100 million visits from prospective students across its sites each year.  

Simon Emmett, Chief Executive Officer at IDP Connect, said: 

“In light of all that has happened in 2020 students are naturally reassessing their options, and it’s evident that the current economic climate as a result of the pandemic is influencing what they decide to study as much as where.  

“With a focus on both job security and quality of teaching/access to resources, it’s perhaps no surprise that degrees in the arts are less in demand for 2021. The arts industry has taken a massive hit this year and young people and their parents are concerned about pursuing their dreams on that path. What we found shocking though is that subjects like applied and pure sciences are taking the biggest hit, and I think it’s important for the Government, schools and Universities to encourage students to still pursue these areas of study and find ways to get them proper lab time. After all, the solution to this virus started in a lab; who knows what solutions we’ll need in the future.”   


Cal Gable / PR account executive, callum@radioactivepr.com, Radioactivepr.com, Office: 01452 698765, Mobile: +44 7941 829655, 

The full findings can be found in the report available here:

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CP - Image - Headshot - Ella Grimwade - UK
Ella Grimwade08 December 2020