Science pays its way

February 4, 2005

The Government can justify supporting expensive science subjects in universities because physics and chemistry graduates will earn more than other graduates over a lifetime and pay more back to the state in taxes, a new report suggests.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the economic benefits of different degree courses, commissioned by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry, will lend weight to calls for the Government to step in and save threatened science departments from closure.

The study, released on Thursday, found that although physics and chemistry are expensive to teach, graduates in the subjects pay almost £40,000 more in tax than other graduates because they earn substantially more over their lifetime.

David Giachardi, chief executive of the RSC, said: "The taxman should be very concerned about universities not cherishing chemistry and physics."

He added: "Undergraduates in those areas should be rubbing their hands at the realisation that they will be ahead of the field financially for the rest of their lives after graduating."

The consultants found that the earnings of graduates in their twenties were relatively the same across the board. After the age of 30, however, the salaries of physics and chemistry graduates began to take off.

According to the PwC report, between the ages of 40 and 50, physical science graduates can expect their annual earnings to be £13,000 more than those who studied psychology and £10,000 more than those who studied biological sciences.

The report calculates that taking a degree in chemistry or physics - rather than stopping education after A levels - adds about £190,000 to a person's lifetime earnings.

In contrast, opting for a degree in history, linguistics, English or Celtic studies adds a premium of less than £100,000 to lifetime earnings.

Both the IoP and the RSC are worried about subject cuts in universities.

The IoP calculates that one third of physics university courses have been lost in the past 12 years. The Times Higher revealed in December that the physics degree course at Newcastle University had become the latest victim.

In the past 12 months, chemistry closures have been announced at Exeter University; Queen Mary, University of London; King's College London and Swansea University.

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