Taking on Blackstone

November 7, 1997

SURELY Sir Harry Kroto could not have missed Huw Richards's article (THES, June 21 1996) titled "Blackstone goes for fees"? In it she made the same points as in her THES item of October 17.

Last year, as the chair of Birkbeck College's MSF union branch, I met with Tessa Blackstone to discuss how her public statements may be interpreted in relation to Birkbeck, and it is sad to find that she has not advanced the debate.

The seriousness of the policy vacuum may be gauged by the radical statements regarding physical sciences coming from many universities and institutions - suggestions to scale down or close chemistry and physics departments are common.

Sir Harry's response is frail, and is further weakened by its recourse to language guaranteed to exacerbate already entrenched views. Meanwhile, Baroness Blackstone's article does not address the question of where new technology is supposed to come from, or who will teach the engineers and scientists it will require.

The Birkbeck MSF branch recognised the need for a new initiative in science teaching at the college, and proposed establishing a general science degree running in parallel to the honours degrees in science.

Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer is also indicating a need for substantial changes to the way that science is taught at university level, taking account of the need for breadth of knowledge and experience.

Our science education should seek to break from the monocultures that have grown up around various scientific disciplines.

The most unfortunate aspect of Baroness Blackstone's article is the attempt to send two messages. Her other point, about increasing part-time provision, has been overlooked. As a former Birkbeck student, and now tutor with the Open University, I welcome this debate.

Mark Ellerby Formerly of Birkbeck College physics department

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