Science dies out in English 'deserts'

July 11, 2003

Almost 80 university science and engineering departments have closed in England in the past ten years, according to government figures obtained by The THES.

The Department for Education and Skills compiled data on closures for the Commons science and technology select committee, which was concerned that hard science was being pushed out in today's tough financial climate.

Committee chair Ian Gibson said the figures were worse than he had expected. He said: "This means we have to look at this as deadly serious.

These are important aspects of science that are vital to the economy."

Engineering and technology have been particularly hard hit. According to statistics, between 1994-95 and 2000-01, 46 departments closed in this field.

The situation is similarly grave in the physical sciences. In the same period, 14 physics departments, eight chemistry departments and five physical science combination courses closed.

The Institute of Physics said it planned to write to education secretary Charles Clarke to demand action. The institute was concerned that there would be further closures in physics in the next few years.

Peter Main, director of education and science at the IoP, said: "There are now regions of the UK where there are no physics departments. For example, there are no universities offering physics degrees in East Anglia. In these deserts, no student will be able to live at home and do a physics degree."

Pressure group Save British Science said the UK would soon end up with no capacity at all in key areas such as materials science. It also warned that the number of closures has been rising since 2001 and would continue to grow because of the fallout from the research assessment exercise.

SBS director Peter Cotgreave said: "In many cases, vice-chancellors lose money for every science student they teach, so when times are hard science departments are easy to cut."

Biological science was the only area that remained buoyant, with just three closures in botany and 77 new departments across the sector.

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