Memorandum from Richard Sear, Lecturer,
Department of Physics, University of Surrey
The committee has asked for comments on a number
of different points. I reproduce these points below, together
with my comments.
The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae,
as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial
viability of university science departments;
It is obvious that under the current formula
three and four rated departments are not even close to being financially
viable. This is resulting in a number of them being closed.
The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend;
I am not aware of any hard evidence that concentrating
research is having a positive or negative effect on research.
However, it is clear that the trend is pulling money away from
departments that between them teach a significant fraction of
UK physics (and chemistry) undergraduates. It is therefore having
rather unfortunate consequences for physics teaching.
The implications for university science teaching
of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the
teaching funding formula;
The current fees are inadequate to pay for teaching
physics degrees in the way they have been traditionally taught
in the UK, ie, with substantial time in experimental and computing
labs, and a relatively high staff to student ratio.
The optimal balance between teaching and research
provision in universities, giving particular consideration to
the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
departments; Teaching-only physics and chemistry departments are
nowhere near financially viable within the current model for the
funding of UK universities. I do not know enough about the situation
in biology to comment. Also, the strong connection between research
and teaching has been a strength of UK universities.
The importance of maintaining a regional capacity
in university science teaching and research; and
As I understand it, the government wishes to
support/regenerate regions such as the north east. University
science departments, amongst others, can play a role here, but
to do so they need to be funded adequately. Putting large sums
of government money into trying to boost high tech manufacturing
in a region while allowing science and engineering departments
in that region to close is sheer stupidity.
The extent to which the Government should intervene
to ensure continuing provision of subjects of strategic national
or regional importance; and the mechanisms it should use for this
I do not think direct intervention in individual
departments is appropriate. The closure of physics and chemistry
departments is simply universities responding to government policy.
All the government needs to do is to change the funding model
to one where grade 4 departments are not too far away from being
financially viable. Incidentally, merely redistributing the money
from 5 and 5* departments to 3 and 4 departments will cause severe
problems for the 5 and 5* departments. For example, I believe
the 5* rated Oxford chemistry department is already heavily loss
making. The combined total of the HEFCE money distributed according
to RAE ratings and the fee income is simply inadequate to maintain
the current university physics and chemistry infrastructure. Therefore,
either more money will be found or this infrastructure will continue