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VCs must listen to prime minister on future of UK science, says UCU

3 November 2006

The joint general secretary of UCU, Sally Hunt, said today that universities must listen to the prime minister's message on the future of UK science.

The prime minister, speaking in Oxford at 11.00am this morning, is expected to say that he views the development of science as important as economic stability for future prosperity. He is also expected to outline how to encourage people to take science subjects at school and university.

Sally Hunt welcomed the prime minister's sentiments but warned there was little strategy in place to preserve or improve science teaching in the UK. She said: 'Seventy science departments have been shut in the last seven years, whereas in China and India they are opening, not closing, departments.

'When individual vice-chancellors can close strategically important departments at a whim, with no one ensuring that the national interest is being served, the system is clearly not working. Institutions must be publicly and transparently accountable to someone for the decisions they take if we are to have a national science strategy.'

UCU is currently fighting the planned closure of the award-winning physics department at Reading University. The university announced its plans to shut the department in September, despite the fact that in its financial review just months earlier the university senate stated that physics was not under threat. The department's fate will be decided by Reading council at its next meeting on 20 November.

The prime minister's speech today adds to the growing support for UK science from UCU, the government, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the higher education funding council for England (Hefce) and the Institute of Physics (IOP).

The union is amazed that, despite all this support for the sciences and expert opinion opposing the proposed closure, individual vice-chancellors still have the power to shut departments.

Sally Hunt continued: 'To listen to what ministers, business and academics have to say about science in this country one would assume that the future is bright. However, individual vice-chancellors, like Gordon Marshall at Reading, still have the power to fly in the face of expert opinion and wield the axe.

'To move science forward in this country and meet the global challenges of the 21st century we all need to be pushing forward together. We welcome the prime minister's support for the future of science today and we are calling for an immediate end to the culling of science departments.'

Last updated: 15 December 2015