Leader: Focus to save subjects

December 3, 2004

The hue and cry over the closure of chemistry departments reached such a pitch this week that the Government was forced to bring forward its announcement on subjects of national strategic importance. When two ministers are grilled simultaneously by different select committees on the same subject, it is time for action. Reasonably enough, responsibility for detailed planning is being left with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, but even the list of subjects will be enough to cause divisions. It appears, for example, to include media studies ("vocationally oriented subjects... in the cultural and creative industries") but not education or economics.

If the list were taken at face value, practically all the subjects at some universities would have to be protected. The funding council would need action plans for everything from computer games design to Baltic studies - without spending any extra money on them. The announcement drew distinctions between the need for continuing research in some areas and a requirement for regional teaching coverage in others, but everything was couched in terms of graduate numbers. For intervention to be at a worthwhile level, whether through student incentives or departmental subsidies, Hefce will surely have to focus its attention more narrowly.

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