At-risk subjects get £22m shot in the arm

October 28, 2005

Multimillion pound initiatives have been unveiled to draw together "world-class cadres of researchers" in area studies and languages in the latest move to protect "strategic subjects" vulnerable to closure.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England and two research councils have agreed to commit £22 million to support area studies relating to the Arabic-speaking world, China, Japan and Eastern Europe.

But the money, rather than being focused on "one or two centres of excellence" - as the funding council's report on strategic subjects suggested in June - will be used to support collaborative projects between universities.

The Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council will provide £11 million, with Hefce providing another £11 million.

Jeremy Neathey, the ESRC's head of postgraduate training, said: "What we want to do is maximise the impact of the initiative by drawing on expertise where-ever we may find it within the UK research community.

"Rather than have two or three very strong centres competing against each other, what we would rather do is to encourage those centres to work together in a collaborative model.

"But we're also talking about new configurations of expertise - to be multidisciplinary."

The decision about which collaborative projects will receive funding will be taken next spring.

Meanwhile, a consortium of bodies linked to mathematics have received Hefce funding to carry out their own study of how to increase the number of graduates in the subject.

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the London Mathematical Society, the Royal Statistical Society, the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences and the Higher Education Academy will hold a series of fact-finding workshops around the country in the coming months to "gather views and facts".

Peter Cooper, executive secretary of the London Mathematical Society, said that the number of pupils taking A-level maths had fallen by 10 per cent over the past ten years.

"At best, entries to mainstream mathematical sciences courses in universities have stayed level, and in many areas mathematics departments are closing through a lack of students," he said.

"We must find ways of encouraging more young people to study mathematics and statistics in higher education if we wish to remain competitive on a world stage, and this is the aim of the study the mathematical sciences bodies are undertaking," Mr Cooper added.

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