Doctorate programmes in particle physics and astronomy attract high calibre students and those qualifying have little difficulty in getting jobs, according to a study to be published soon, writes Kam Patel.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, which commissioned the study, says that the findings lend powerful support to its contention that the students PPARC supports are as good as those funded by other research councils.
The report says that on average, two-thirds of students embarking on PhDs in particle physics or astronomy had obtained a first-class degree. The standard of students' first degree appears to be increasing, with 60 per cent of the 1986-88 cohort obtaining a first compared to 67 per cent of the 1990-91 group.
The study by consultant Pieda looked at the career experience of two groups of former PPARC-backed students. The first group qualified between 1986 and 1988 while the second cohort finished in 1990 and 1991. The findings are based on reponses from 289 students, a response rate of 72 per cent.
Of the 1986-88 cohort, only 1.8 per cent are registered as unemployed. Three in five of the students from this period began careers in higher education. The rest joined the public or private sector. The information technology and business sectors recruited two-thirds of all those employed in the private sector.
The main difference between the two cohorts is that a greater proportion of the 1990-91 group is employed in the private sector.
John Enderby, professor of physics at Bristol University and chairman of PPARC education committee, says that there is great demand for its PhD programmes. To help meet it, the annual student intake is to be increased by 24, about 20 per cent, with the long-term aim of achieving a 50 per cent increase.