Students are shunning many traditional academic subjects in the humanities and social sciences in favour of degrees that they believe will increase their chances of landing jobs, application figures for the first courses to carry top-up fees showed this week.
Numbers applying to study history have fallen by more than 8 per cent, languages with arts and humanities combinations by 9.1 per cent and fine art and music by 11 per cent, data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show.
In contrast, the number of applications to many subjects more obviously geared to a career rose. Nursing attracted 15.4 per cent more applications, social work 7.4 per cent more, subjects allied to medicine 8.8 per cent more and pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy 9.6 per cent more.
Signs of a possible top-up fee effect also emerged at national level. The number of applications to UK universities slipped 3.4 per cent, but applications by English students to universities in England, which will charge fees of up to £3,000 a year from this autumn, fell by 4.5 per cent.
Applications to Scottish and Welsh institutions, which will not charge top-ups, are up by 1.6 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.
The number of applications to many post-92 universities rose. The popularity of these institutions was attributed to factors including their more vocational subject mix and their focus on local recruitment as debt-averse students increasingly seek to live at home.
Applications to the University of East London rose by 7.4 per cent. Michael Thorne, the vice-chancellor, said: "Students are becoming good at spotting the relationship between programmes and career opportunities."
Karyn Brinkley, pro vice-chancellor of Bolton University, where applications have jumped by 50.2 per cent, said: "It makes sense that students are heading towards more vocationally oriented institutions."
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, the lobby group for post-92 universities, said: "There is no doubt that courses that lead directly to jobs have proved popular."
The number of applications from overseas students from outside the European Union, who pay full fees, dropped by 4.3 per cent. But applications from the EU rose by 14 per cent.