All entries for Wednesday 04 October 2006

October 04, 2006

No more Physics at Reading

Writing about web page

Reading University is to close its Physics department, with this month’s intake of thirty students being the final cohort, and the department being shut down in 2010. It’s the second university to do this after Newcastle.

The Institute of Physics observes that this is essentially a market-driven problem, with funding following student numbers, and therefore universities are only able to maintain courses and departments which prospective students are willing to choose:-

At the Institute of Physics, science director Peter Main said the great paradox was that physics graduates were very employable and well paid – but departments were at risk because of underfunding. “There is a mismatch between what UK plc and employers want, and the economic drivers of universities.”

It seems almost unnatural that such a well-established, fundamental discipline can be suffering these sorts of problems. What is it that puts seventeen-year-olds off physics? Is it seen as too hard? Boring? Lacking desirable career outcomes? What could be done to make it more attractive? I wonder if the government will eventually be driven to subsidise courses which are economically important but under-subscribed, or whether there’s anything that could be done to boost the image and desirability of such subjects to prospective students.

Teenage brain scan

Cover scan

This is the front cover of the New Yorker’s special education issue. I always enjoy the New Yorker, but I generally associate it with insight and smart analysis relating to politics, arts and culture; it’s the antithesis of trendy, cool or “youth”. So I was tickled half to death by their estimate of what goes on inside an (american) teenager’s head. Of course, I have no real idea of whether they’re on the money or not; I’m just as badly placed to judge as I had presumed that they would have been. But it seems like a plausible guess to me.

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