‘Universities are gold mines and we must better extract their value’

Brian Cox urges institutions to work with local providers to widen participation

September 18, 2014

Source: Rex

Brian Cox: universities are places of ‘education, knowledge and aspiration’

Universities are an underused resource and should play a “much bigger role in society”, particularly with regard to widening participation, according to Brian Cox.

The physicist, who has a chair in particle physics at the University of Manchester and is well known for presenting television programmes such as BBC Two’s Wonders of the Universe, said that it was now incumbent on academics to encourage their institution to work with other local service providers such as schools and the National Health Service.

“What is the job of an academic? I think we get paid by society to do research and to educate and also, increasingly, to get universities to play a wider role in society. That’s what we’re paid to do,” he told Times Higher Education.

“I think universities are gold mines, and their value is not extracted as well as it might be.”

Professor Cox was speaking during a science summer school at St Paul’s Way Trust School in East London, a secondary school that counts the University of Warwick, the University of East London, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Education, University of London among its partners.

The school, he said, was an example of secondary and higher education institutions working together effectively – something he would like to see happening more widely to help encourage more students to consider higher education.

“There’s an enormous skills gap, which is not some sort of theoretical problem – there are well over a million new engineers needed in the economy by 2020,” he said, adding that more graduates were needed across all the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

“But how do you do that? It is very hard to have big overarching initiatives. One thing you can do is have focused initiatives where everyone gets on and does it with bigger goals in mind,” he said.

Last month, data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England showed that demand for STEM subjects had increased, with the number of students accepted on to physics, chemistry, biology and engineering courses all up over the past three years. In the same period, modern foreign languages saw an 18 per cent decline.

“Nobody in a university position, other than ridiculously tribal people, thinks the health of a university is based on its science output alone,” Professor Cox said. “And nobody is suggesting that there should be a competition between science and the arts or science and modern languages.”

He added that universities were places of “education, knowledge, aspiration and what I call redistribution of opportunity”, adding that “it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about science, or modern languages, or English or history”.


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations