A recent survey by the Standing Conference of Physics Professors found that three out of five university physics departments expected to be in deficit in 1997-98, a slight improvement on last year when four out of five were in the red.
Last year UEA decided to phase out undergraduate physics admissions, blaming falling student numbers. Now the university says it cannot bring in sufficient grants and awards to keep the research arm of the department afloat without considerable subsidy. The university's planning and resources committee has recommended the department, which scored a four in the research assessment exercise, shut from August 1999 when existing second-year students have finished their degrees. The university senate and council are still to vote on the closure. A decision is expected by July.
A university spokeswoman said that if the university decided to shut physics completely, every effort would be made to help the 13 staff members.
A shortage of applicants is also being blamed for the decision to stop admitting physics undergraduates to Essex from October. The department will now focus on research and postgraduate teaching. A spokeswoman said that no redundancies were planned.