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Mathematics alone in losing PhD starters

The mathematical sciences are the only academic discipline that has seen a reduction in the number of full-time PhD starters between 2007-08 and 2009-10, reveals a report.

The report, “PhD study: Trends and profiles 1996-97 to 2009-10”, was published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It shows the characteristics of starters to doctoral degree courses in UK universities.

The report says that the number of PhD starters on full-time courses in the mathematical sciences fell 1 per cent between 2007-08 and 2009-10. No other academic discipline saw a reduction in PhD students in this period.

However, in the longer time period between 1996-97 and 2009-10 the number increased by 47 per cent.

The biggest increase in full-time PhD starters between 1996-97 and 2009-10 occurred in the subjects of arts and design, which grew by 338 per cent. Veterinary and agricultural science grew only 1 per cent during the same period.

The report shows that the number of full-time medicine and dentistry students grew 134 per cent between 1996-97 and 2009-10, while full-timers in the biological sciences grew 68 per cent; physics 96 per cent; and chemistry 17 per cent.

Several disciplines experienced a decrease in part-time students. The biggest drop was again seen in the mathematical sciences, with a 19 per cent drop between 2007-08 and 2009-10. In the same period, physics lost 6 per cent of part-time starters and “other physical sciences” lost 13 per cent.

On overall student numbers, the report says that the number of international and EU PhD starters to full-time courses in the UK more than doubled between 1996-97 and 2009-10.

While the number of UK-domiciled PhD starters to full-time courses increased by 57 per cent to 9,420 during the period, the number of EU students rose 122 per cent to 2,550 and international students increased by 115 per cent to 6,105.

The total number of PhD starters went up by 81 per cent from 9,990 to 18,0752 between 1996-97 and 2009-10. However, the report also shows that the biggest percentage increase between 2007-08 and 2009-10 was in the number of starters on part-time PhD programmes, which increased by 16 per cent from 4,070 to 4,715.

Looking at the differences between part- and full-time students, the report found that the number of full-time female students grew by 15 per cent between 2007-08 and 2009-10.

In the same period, the number of male students on part-time courses grew by 16 per cent.

Part-time students declaring a disability also grew, up 22 per cent from 200 to 240.