Physics posts have rocketed sky high

March 1, 1996

Academic appointments in particle physics and astronomy have grown strongly in recent years despite a decline in research funding for the disciplines.

Ken Pounds, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, says the figures show a "strong vote of confidence" from universities in these "big science" subjects.

But the appointments present a considerable challenge for his cash-strapped council to come up with the funding to support the long-term work of the appointees.

The dilemma was expected to be high on the agenda of a meeting of PPARC officials this week aimed at developing a business plan to cope with council's funding problems.

The figures, compiled by Professor Pounds, show that just eight new appointments were made over a six-month period in 1992 and that the total for 1993 was 14.

But for both 1994 and 1995, the total jumped to 30. The half-year total for 1996 reached 21.

Professor Pounds says that the significant increase in 1994-96 is "undoubtedly" due to universities trying to strengthen their research groups ahead of the research assessment exercise. The average number of appointments over the four-year cycle is the highest since the 1960s.

While part of this recruitment is to replace staff reaching retirement it appears, particularly in astronomy, that at least half of the appointments are to new posts.

The age distribution of staff appointed is also encouraging, he said, with most universities avoiding the "cheap route" of recruiting from the late twenties age group. Most new lecturers and professor appointed are in their thirties and forties.

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