October 04, 2006

No more Physics at Reading

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/5399346.stm

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.

- 6 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. I took Physics until Grade 12 (I didn’t have my primary or secondary education in this country), and I thought it was great. The reason? We did stuff. We did experiments, built musical instruments, went to theme parks like Alton Towers – my teachers made sure we saw the reality behind the mathematics, and for me that made all the difference.

    That said, I didn’t choose to study Physics at Uni – but several others in my year did.

    04 Oct 2006, 12:30

  2. If finding inspiring teachers of 17-year-olds is a problem (I suspect it is), Physicists could well take a leaf out of the mathematicians’ book. The Further Maths Network is showing strong signs of stemming the decline in A-Level Mathematics and Further Mathematics—see my blog entry http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/caa4s/entry/in_the_manner/.

    04 Oct 2006, 13:43

  3. Lee Davis

    Universities started closing Physics departments years ago, I was in the last year to graduate from Bangor’s Physics department in 1989. I think part of the problem is persuading people that physics is worthwhile career wise. I actually switched from straight Physics to a joint Physics and Electronic enginering degree as the physics was more interesting, but even then the electronics looked to be probably more useful.
    Students aren’t going to opt to get in debt doing a ‘hard’ degree if at the end of it they are going for jobs that will take almost any degree.

    04 Oct 2006, 14:32

  4. bq …physics graduates [are] very employable…

    Erm… I canny even find a decent physics job to try and be turned down from at the moment!

    04 Oct 2006, 23:01

  5. I loved physics loved loved loved it. Until year 11 when our wonderful physics teacher left and we got a fat rude welsh man (yes Mr Jones I mean YOU) who couldn’t teach, couldn’t maintain order and discipline and didn’t cover half the syllabus. So if many other people have similarly bad experiences with physics its no surprise the applicants for physics degrees are reduced. Catch 22 though, because whose going to teach the next generation physics?

    Its so sad when university departments close down. Think of all the lecturers who have to pack up their whole lives and careers and find a good job somewhere else – maybe the other end of the country. So sad.

    04 Oct 2006, 23:52

  6. Pete Houston

    To help keep the University of Reading Council from closing the department, please take a moment to sign the online petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/RUPhys/petition.html

    03 Nov 2006, 17:05

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