Memorandum from the Institute of Physics
The Institute of Physics is a leading international
professional body and learned society, with over 37,000 members,
which promotes the advancement and dissemination of a knowledge
of and education in the science of physics, pure and applied.
The Institute welcomes the Committee's Inquiry,
as we are extremely concerned about the future viability of a
number of university physics departments in England. Recent high
profile announcements about the Universities of Newcastle and
Keele discontinuing their core undergraduate physics degree programmes
have done little to allay fears of the Institute and its community.
As the Committee may well be aware, since the
turn of the new Millennium the Institute has been active in highlighting
the emergence of `physics deserts', regions in the country where
there is no university provision for undergraduate physics. It
was reported in the Institute's report of 2001, the Undergraduate
Physics Inquiry, that since the removal of the binary divide,
the economics of university physics departments has led to over
30% of them having either merged or closed. The current figure,
following the merger of Manchester, and not accounting for Newcastle
and Keele, is 48 in the UK, of which 36 are in England. If this
pattern continues, we could be left in a position where many potential
physics students are unable to study physics at their local institutions.
We are in the process of talking to HEFCE with
regards to the demand side problem of getting more students interested
in physics at A-level and undergraduate degrees. But this is a
long-term solution, by which time the "desert" could
be encroaching into further regions of the country.
The attached annex details the key issues of
concern to the Institute, in response to the main points issued
in the call for evidence.