MPs warn underfunding will hit science and technology teaching

February 11, 2005

Failure to act on course cuts will open up subject 'wastelands' across the UK

MPs warned this week that there was "no way" that a university science department could support itself properly under the existing government funding system.

Taking evidence on strategic science provision in English universities on Monday, members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee attacked the Higher Education Funding Council for England for not doing more to stop the flood of chemistry and physics department closures in recent years.

Labour MP Brian Iddon said: "There is no way that the current UK dual-support system supports the full costs of running a science department in this country."

Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, admitted that teaching was "underfunded" in science and technology subjects, and indeed throughout the university system.

But he stressed that although Hefce had altered the cost weightings for teaching - putting some science subjects into a lower funding band - the amount of money per student for science teaching had risen. He told the committee that he was keen for the university sector to remain "dynamic" and admitted such a policy would mean more closures.

But Sir Howard added: "We will need to ensure that the opportunity is there for students to study science when they want to."

The committee also heard evidence from four students studying science at different universities.

Danielle Miles, a first-year in the chemistry department at Exeter University, which is being axed due to financial problems, said: "There needs to be more control over closures. If a school decided to shut down its science department, I'm pretty sure the Government would step in and say you can't do that."

Ms Miles, who is negotiating a transfer to Leeds University, told the committee that students were in a state of "panic" after the announcement of cuts last year.

"When I started I had no idea this sort of thing happened - that degrees just got cut off," she said.

A spokesperson for Exeter said that students had the option of staying on at Exeter - to study either chemistry or another subject- or transferring to another university.

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