Record rises in science applications to University of Leicester as TV shows inspire students to shoot for the stars

Posted by er134 at May 03, 2013 11:11 AM |
‘Brian Cox effect’ impacts interest in science at leading UK university

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 3 May 2013

One of the country’s leading universities has reported record rises in applications to science degrees.

The biggest increase in applications at the University of Leicester has been in astronomy and physics -- up by 66 per cent1, compared with a national average of 8.8 per cent in physics and decline of more than 3 per cent in astronomy2.

The change has been attributed to Leicester’s growing reputation as a centre of academic excellence and students thinking more carefully about which degrees will offer them the best career prospects.

Academics believe that some of the increased interest in science may be due to the so-called “Brian Cox effect” – with astronomy and physics gaining popular appeal through TV programmes presented by the pop-star-turned-professor, and other celebrities.

Growing applications have forced the University to increase its entry requirements for prospective students, from three B grades at A-level to AAB or ABB.

Professor Martin Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University and Head of the College of Science and Engineering, said: “In the past it was really quite difficult to recruit students to some science subjects and it was a hand-to-mouth existence for some departments. We would worry about the messages in schools about the importance of a science degree.

“But we have seen a big reversal and it is now a case of ensuring we recruit the very best applicants.

“It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why we are seeing these changes in application rates without any hard evidence, but I believe that students are becoming more discerning and are thinking ahead to how their degree might help in their future careers. Leicester also ranks highly in university league tables, and young people take notice of these.

“We are also undoubtedly seeing the Brian Cox Effect, with Professor Cox and other celebrities such as Dara O’Briain and Brian May making science more appealing and accessible to a mainstream audience.”

Other science subjects that have seen a jump in applications at Leicester including computer science, up by 28 per cent (against a national increase of 15.5 per cent), chemistry up 19 per cent (9.7 per cent nationally) and engineering with a rise of 25 per cent (15.2 per cent nationally).


Notes to Editors

Figures from the University of Leicester relate to the period up to April 30, 2013.

2 Figures from UCAS relate to the period up to January 15, 2013, see table 6: total applications (choices) by JACS3 subject group of their January release


For more information contact Professor Martin Barstow on tel: 0116 252 3492 or email:

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