The most popular degree courses in the UK include a mix of those that are closely tied to future careers or the world of work, and those that are providing transferable skills without preparing graduates for particular roles.
The most popular degree for those starting their undergraduate studies in 2013 was business and management studies, which enrolled 124,375 new students. The popularity of this course emphasises the importance that many students, faced with an uncertain job market upon graduation, place on courses that will prepare them for their future careers. IT and computer science, which came fifth with 62,670 students, probably owes its popularity not just to an increasing interest in technology among young people, but also to similar thinking about employability. Advanced IT skills were named as in short supply by 22% of respondents to the Employer Skills Survey who were struggling to find people with the right skills to fill their vacancies.
Several other career-related courses are also among the top ten most popular courses, but these options prepare students for more specific career paths. Law came in second, with 66,035 first year students, while education was seventh, with 56,200 and nursing eighth, with 53,440. The numbers studying nursing have risen particularly steeply in recent years thanks to the drive for all new nurses to have completed degrees.
The remaining degrees in the top ten were not as closely tied to potential future careers: sociology came third, with 66,020 students, the slightly more career-oriented art and design came fourth, with 65,505, psychology was sixth, with 61,055 students, biosciences came ninth, with 45,795 and history was tenth, with 42,540. The popularity of these courses has more to do with their appeal to young people looking for an interesting subject to study for the next few years, and the popularity of these subjects at A Level, than with their ability to prepare people for particular careers. Graduates gain many addtional skills through the university study process, such as the ability to think analytically, to communicate effectively, and to understand people. Applicants are increasingly likely to access figures such as post-graduation employment rates when making decisions about what to study and this will influence their choices.
Among the degrees with the highest rates of graduates finding work within six months of graduating, are many professional courses such as medicine, engineering and law, the career-related business studies, which generated an 85% employment rate for its recent graduates, and the ever-popular biosciences and history, which left graduates with 87.1% and 85.4% employment rates, respectively. The employability of graduates from these courses is likely to play a part in their continuing popularity, as employers report increasing shortages of job applicants with core skills such as literacy, numeracy and communication, and young students continue looking for courses that can both interest them and prepare them for the job market.