My colleague Anthony Keeble is reported as saying that he has "no idea" why applications to science courses at Reading University have climbed 10 per cent ("Applications surge elates universities", February 16). As someone who fought against the closure of the department of physics at Reading, I feel both frustrated and unsurprised at this news.
Throughout the battle to prevent the department's closure, the issue of sustainable student numbers in physics was discussed at length. The view put across by management was that numbers were in terminal decline and that this made the department unsustainable. This was argued despite the department's having one of the best staff-student ratios in the region and being a centre of excellence in teaching and learning.
To be fair to the university, it did advise us that student numbers were not the only issue and, ultimately - after various shifts in position - a "changed financial environment" was cited as the main reason for the department's demise. By far the biggest change in circumstances concerned energy bills, which at the time were soaring. We reflect now that the opposite appears to be happening, with the price of both gas and oil significantly off their recent highs. I suppose elsewhere in the university there are others equally challenged for an idea why this may be so.
Maybe Keeble's comments offer us some wisdom. Whether it be spikes in global economy or the current "choice of the 17-year-old" prospective student, these are a bad basis to decide the fate of an irreplaceable part of our university.