Stem and languages specialists ‘more likely to go to top universities’

A level students focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects or languages are more likely to go to Russell Group institutions, according to research.

And the study finds that students who specialised in “applied” or “expressive” subjects – such as accounting, law, music and performing arts – were more likely to go on to study at less prestigious newer universities.

The research finds that 47 per cent of students who specialised in Stem subjects at A level went on to study for undergraduate degrees at Russell Group universities in 2011/12.

Only 7.1 per cent of the Stem specialists went on to study at newer universities in the Million+ group.

By contrast, only a minority of those studying applied or expressive subjects – 8.5 per cent of each group – went to a Russell Group institution.

More than 61 per cent of languages specialists went on to Russell Group universities, the analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency finds.

The research is expected to feed into the debate over the role of subject choice in determining young people’s future career opportunities.

In the past, top universities have been criticised for being unclear about “facilitating subjects” they want applicants to have studied, but have made extensive efforts in recent years to be more open.

The report’s authors stress that Russell Group universities are not always the most appropriate places to study certain subjects, and it is important that students make “informed choices” about what they study.

The report, published today in Research Matters, Cambridge Assessment’s research publication, says: “These results contribute to the debate about the crucial role of subject choice…after age 16 in the future career opportunities of young students, because these associations hold also when controlling for other variables, such as level of attainment and prior institution attended.

“Although membership of the Russell Group is not necessarily important in determining the quality of undergraduates’ university experiences, empirical evidence has shown that obtaining a degree from a Russell Group institution leads to a higher wage return in the labour market”.

The report, The effect of specialism and attainment in secondary school on the choice of Higher Education institution and field of study can be found here.

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