Hefce's inertia attacked

March 17, 2006

Scientists and MPs this week accused the Government and the English funding council of kicking the problem of science closures into the long grass, writes Anna Fazackerley.

After an outcry over the demise of chemistry and physics departments, the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on protecting strategic subjects last June.

But leading members of the science community said this week that there was still no evidence of any real action.

The Commons' Science and Technology Committee, which highlighted the threat to science departments last year, is considering reopening its inquiry.

Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and a member of the committee, said: "I and many others in Parliament fear that the situation is not getting any better."

The Royal Society of Chemistry said it had asked Hefce for £ million over eight years to stimulate interest in science at school-level.

But it warned that, unless the council moved to change the way it funded science teaching, there would be more closures.

Tony Ashmore, director of education at the society, said: "It is more than two years since Hefce first promised to look at its funding formula but nothing has happened. Now they are consulting on whether to review it, but they are looking at making changes in two or three years' time. It is too drawn out."

Martin Taylor, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "The Government set out its ambition, in its ten-year framework for science, for a step change in the uptake of science beyond the age of 16. Even though the framework was published in July 2004, there is still no coherent strategy for bringing about this step change."

But Rama Thirunamachandran, director of research at Hefce, said: "If anyone is claiming we are not doing things to stimulate demand or build research capacity, it does seem unfair."

He added: "Raising demand is what will solve the problem, not criticising universities. If there is a significant decline in numbers they have to manage their resources as best they can."

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