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UCU reports reveal areas of UK with dearth of degrees

8 February 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

Parts of the UK cannot offer students, or potential students, courses in key subject areas such as core sciences and modern languages, according to two reports released today by UCU.

The reports, 'Degrees of decline' and 'Losing our tongues', catalogue the decline in science and modern languages courses that has led to regional 'deserts' where there are little or no courses available. UCU says today that such limited choice will force many students to give up on their preferred university option, especially those who cannot afford to move far from the parental home.

'Degrees of decline' reveals that 10 per cent of UK science and maths courses have been axed in the last decade. 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.

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.

'Losing our tongues' shows that there have been dramatic falls in the number of universities offering modern languages. The number of higher education institutions offering French has fallen by 15 per cent over the last decade, institutions providing German have dropped by a quarter (25 per cent) and institutions offering Italian have fallen by nine per cent.

Regional analysis of 'Losing our tongues' reveals that the number of higher education institutions in London providing undergraduate French has fallen by 27 per cent, universities providing German have dropped by more than half (58 per cent); and, according to university admissions body, UCAS, there will not be any undergraduate provision of Italian in Northern Ireland in 2007.

UCU believes that the government's decision in 2004 to make languages at GCSE non-compulsory could reduce still further the number of institutions providing courses in these languages. Already the number of pupils taking French and German at GCSE has dropped sharply.

Both reports say that students, or potential students, from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities are likely to be hardest hit by the cuts, as they are the most likely to seek a university close to home.

UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We simply cannot afford to have areas of the country where local students do not have access to the courses they want to study. The increasing cost of university means many students are being forced to study closer to home. How have we allowed a situation to develop where potential Nobel Prize winners are unable to study in their field of expertise because they cannot afford to, or are unable to, move to the other end of the country?

'The state of science and modern language provision at university demonstrates the shameful gap between rhetoric and reality in higher education policy. Since 1999 seventy science departments have been axed and there are now parts of the country that offer very few specialist science degrees. We are facing a potentially irreversible decline in the provision of science unless action is taken now. The government offers many warm words about science and innovation in this country, however in countries such as India and China science parks are being put up, not pulled down.

'The widespread closure of modern language courses is leading to students facing restricted choices if they want to study languages. We need to be encouraging future linguists, especially as future researchers and teachers. Without those teachers we will witness a terminal decline in students studying languages, which will damage our civil society and impact on how we interact with the rest of the world.'