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Report reveals that latest physics closure is part of decline in UK science

20 November 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

This afternoon's decision to axe the physics department at Reading University is part of potentially irreversible decline of UK science that could soon see parts of the UK unable to provide courses in both science and maths, warns UCU.

New report reveals 10% cut in maths and science provision in HE over last decade

The decision to closure Reading's physics department comes the same day as a worrying UCU report reveals that 10 per cent of UK science and maths courses have been axed in the last decade. Despite recent initiatives and warm words from the government to help UK science and innovation there has been a 10 per cent reduction in the number of core science and maths degrees offered by UK higher education institutions since 1998.

Today's report 'Degrees of decline' reveals that there are now just 224 single honours BSc courses in maths and science offered in the UK. Chemistry and physics have been worse hit by the cuts and the report shows that in Northern Ireland and north east England there is now only one institution offering single honours physics.

'Degrees of decline' says that students, or potential students, from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities are hardest hit by the cuts. The report shows a 31 per cent decline in chemistry courses and 14 per cent decline in physics. In contrast there has actually been a nine per cent rise in biology. Maths, however, has also been hit by closures with an eight per cent decrease in degree courses.

This afternoon members of Reading University's council voted in favour of closing its physics department, despite the university's financial review earlier this year (March) stating that physics was not under threat.

The afternoon session of the meeting was hastily moved to another room at the university after a protest by members of UCU and students from Reading University. Around 200 protestors marched through the university and were addressed by UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, as a giant petition was unfurled as members of the university's council assembled for lunch.

Speaking after the result, UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Over the past few weeks and months we have heard nothing but encouragement for science and innovation in the UK from all sides. However, warm words mean very little when scientists are being made redundant, labs are closing and courses are being axed, especially at a time when we need more, not less, scientists. UCU stands by its members and the students here at Reading and across the country and will continue to fight any proposed cutbacks.

'The prime minister said earlier this month that science will be as important for Britain's economic future as stability. It is clear that urgent action is required if we are going to be able to meet the global challenges he and fellow ministers have identified. Our report gives a clear indication of the decline of core subjects such as maths and science. Today's decision to axe Reading's physics department makes a mockery of the government's well-intentioned plans for the UK to be any sort of leader in global science provision or at the forefront of future innovation.

'Physics at Reading has buoyant student numbers, an international reputation for research and is renowned as one of the best teaching departments in the country. However, Reading University Council has still allowed it to go the same way as 70 other departments since 1999. We are facing a potentially irreversible decline in the provision of science unless action is taken now. Government and funders must no longer sit on their hands if we are serious about being able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In countries such as India and China science parks are being put up, not pulled down.'

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