I've always wondered about folks like UK Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell ... from 24 Dash:

Higher education minister sparked a row tonight after suggesting university students were dropping classics and philosophy for courses which will be more useful to their careers.

The minister said the trend - which also hit history and fine art - was "no bad thing".

Philosophers, historians, academics and opposition politicians condemned Mr Rammell's remarks as "short-sighted", "out of date" and "economically illiterate".

Applications to study traditional history courses were down 7.8%, while students applying to take degree courses in subjects such as art history or history of religion were down 10.1%.

Philosophy was down 3.9% and fine art degree applications fell 11.4% from last year, according to figures from the admissions service Ucas.

Mr Rammell told the Press Association a first reading of the figures showed students were picking the subjects they think will help them get jobs.

"What you might describe as subjects which students see as being really non-vocational, like fine art, philosophy, classical studies, have seen big reductions.

"That's why I say an initial reading of figures suggests to me that there is some evidence that students are choosing subjects they think are more vocationally beneficial.

"If that's what they are doing I don't see that as necessarily being a bad thing," he said.

Asked if there was any merit in students taking courses in history and philosophy, Mr Rammell said: "Of course there is and if people want to do that I am not going to stop them.

"But if students are making a calculation about which degree is going to get them the best job and the best opportunity in life, I see that as being no bad thing."

But Sean Lang, a teacher and honorary secretary of the Historical Association, said the minister's remarks were "very short-sighted".

"It shows a very limited understanding of the very wide application of academic subjects.

"People are always saying we need to get over the academic-vocational divide.

"What he is doing is entrenching it rather than bridging it."

Timothy Williamson, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University, said: "Philosophy teaches you how to detect bad arguments, so it's no surprise when politicians aren't keen for it to be studied.

"Employers value the capacity for clear critical analysis gained from studying philosophy."

Boris Johnson, shadow higher education minister, said Mr Rammell's remarks risked sending the message that studying classics or philosophy was not a valuable preparation for work.

"That's economically illiterate," he told PA. "I just don't think it's true. A degree in classics or philosophy can be as valuable as anything else.

"Of course students should be encouraged to pick subjects that are going to be vocationally useful and there are signs that they are doing this.

"But I really don't think that they should be discouraged in any way from studying subjects such as philosophy and classics.

"A lot of people will be nervous that the Labour Government is going down the drab utilitarianism route of Charles Clarke."

Three years ago, Mr Clarke, then Education Secretary, caused an outcry after criticising subjects which were not "useful".

Mr Clarke was reported to have said he would not mind a few medieval historians in universities for "ornamental" purposes but the Government should not have to fund them. He later denied making the comments.

Professor Douglas Cairns, honorary secretary of the Classical Association, also criticised Mr Rammell's remarks.

"I think the minister is just out of date," said Professor Cairns, who is head of history and classics at Edinburgh University.

"Like every other arts subject, we provide the full range of transferable skills that have been expected of us for the last 10 to 15 years.

"A degree in any humanities subject is an excellent training for the world of work," he said.

"That's why we get very well qualified students who go on to get very good jobs."

Jonathan Wolff, philosophy professor at University College London and honorary secretary of the British Philosophical Association, agreed.

"It is a bad mistake to think that subjects like philosophy, history and classics do not prepare students for the workplace," Prof Wolff said.

"In the modern world, detailed factual information goes out of date so quickly that employees need the skills to conduct research, and the flexibility of mind and imagination to see problems and possible solutions from many points of views.

"This is what philosophy and similar subjects provide so well."