Physics job losses reflect subject crisis

July 3, 1998

Undergraduate physics was dealt another blow this week as Manchester Metropolitan University decided to scrap its degree course with the loss of 14 jobs.

"The news came out of the blue," said John Thorpe, a mathematician working in the physics department. "This action is illegal and immoral."

Dr Thorpe said the university was hiring new recruits in the department at the same time as axing other staff, a move which was prohibited under law.

The Association of University Teachers, which represents some of those targeted at MMU, has called on the university to withdraw the threat of redundancy on nine academic staff and five technicians in physics and materials science.

A motion signed by 142 people was to have been delivered to the vice-chancellor, but staff encountered a locked door. Unless a solution is found in the next few days academics say they will boycott next week's degree ceremony.

Dr Thorpe said physics was not making a loss, although the applied physics programme was only half full. "Losing physics will create a gap in our degree programmes," Dr Thorpe said. "People are upset and cross about this."

The university blamed declining demand for such specialist courses. "There is a national problem of over capacity in degree-level physics with simply more places on university courses than students," said a spokesperson.

The subject is under review at many universities around the country. Those considering dropping or significantly reducing their undergraduate programmes include Brunel, Kent, East Anglia and Coventry.

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