Universities' science weak

September 8, 1995

Universities had the highest failure rate for activities run during National Science Week last March, says a report released this week. But the week overall was an "outstanding success".

The week, "SET95", was overseen by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, whose second annual event, the festival of science, starts this weekend at Newcastle University. During SET95, universities ran a quarter of the week's events: one in five was unsuccessful compared with one in seven events held by other groups, according to the report by Evaluation Associates.

Universities ran half of their events on campus, despite pleas from the BA beforehand that they should go to public places such as shopping centres in order to attract people who are intimidated by university campuses.

Universities said that they had benefited from SET95 through improved local recognition and attracting potential new students.

Sir Martin Rees, astronomer royal and president of the BA, said: "My impression is that SET95 worked a lot better for universities, compared with 1994. I believe that universities will begin to feel that the public understanding of science is part of their role."

The news came in the same week that the BA announced it is to abandon its cramped headquarters in Savile Row, London, probably to move in with the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street. Professor Rees said that the BA is hampered by the lack of a "natural meeting place and forum for discussion".

He said that discussions with the RI had "reached the detailed stage" but that the BA is also considering other options in West London.

The move highlights the general desire to consolidate activities promoting the so-called public understanding of science. Sir Martin said that so many bodies are involved that they must avoid a mess by coming together in a single forum, such as Copus, the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science, which currently represents only the BA, the RI and the Royal Society.

The move to the RI, which Sir Martin said is "not a merger or a takeover", would probably also help the BA's finances. It spent Pounds 1.7 million last year but most of its income is short-term grants and it is keen for long-term funding.

Executive secretary Peter Briggs said: "We spend half our life keeping the ship on the water." He will apply to the National Lottery to finance the move.

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