Science boosted

November 9, 2006

Science subjects are to receive a multimillion-pound boost to keep courses open while initiatives to increase student demand come into effect.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to provide an extra Pounds 75 million over three years to support high-cost science subjects that are strategically important to the economy but subject to low student demand.

Chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, as well as mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering will all benefit.

David Eastwood, Hefce chief executive, said: "We are implementing a £160 million programme of work. Much of this is designed to raise aspirations of young people to study subjects that are of fundamental importance to the prosperity of the country."

He said that the additional funding, announced this week, would ensure that in future there would be sufficient provision to meet increased demand from students.

"We believe it is far more cost-effective to adopt a time-limited approach to sustain capacity while this demand-raising activity produces results. It would be much more expensive to rebuild capacity from scratch to meet increased demand in the future," Professor Eastwood said.

"Chemistry, physics and other subjects are particularly expensive to provide and have been in relative decline with respect to student numbers," he added.

The extra funding will increase the Hefce teaching grant for these science subjects by about 20 per cent, or £1,000 per student.

The latest university to cause controversy by shutting a science department is Reading, which is planning to close physics. According to the University and College Union, 70 science departments have closed in the past seven years.

This year, MPs have said that the Government was not doing enough to support science departments in universities. In May, the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee said that the Government had no effective lever to prevent the closure of a science department, and was particularly critical of plans by Sussex University to close its chemistry department.

Sussex eventually decided to retain chemistry after public outcry.

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