20:20 physics vision

April 30, 1999

Physics departments must have more than 20 staff to prosper, the University of Wales, Cardiff, has concluded. Its physics department is raising staff numbers from 20 to 25 by establishing an astronomy instrumentation group.

"A consequence of the research assessment exercise process is that it is very hard to achieve excellence with fewer than 20 staff," said Peter Blood, head of physics. In the 1996 RAE, no department with fewer than 25 research-active staff gained the top ratings of grade 5 or 5*. Of the 13 departments to achieve these grades, ten had more than 45 staff. Funding councils use the RAE results to allocate cash.

Cardiff's physics department has gained a grade 4 in the exercise. "I think it's true that you need a critical mass of researchers to do well in the sciences," Professor Blood said. "You also need a diverse department."

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