Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2005

DANIELLE MILES, IAN HUTTON, AMY HUNTINGTON AND STEPHEN ROWLEY

  Q80  Dr Turner: Do you think many of your peers will want to pursue a career in science?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, but I do not necessarily think that a lot of people will want to go down the PhD route now that way, but I can see a lot of other people on my course staying within the field of biology, but not necessarily through the PhD route.

  Q81  Dr Turner: What do you feel about the obvious prospect that you can have a situation whereby people who reach the highest levels in a subject are actually going to be disadvantaged in their careers. Do you think it is a disincentive and a damaging thing to the whole subject?

  Mr Hutton: That is one of the things that is seriously making me evaluate whether or not I want to go into postgraduate education.

  Q82  Dr Turner: Uncertainty is a big thing.

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Q83  Chairman: What about you, Amy? There you are, you are doing it.

  Ms Huntington: I am halfway through my PhD and, no, I have not seen it as anything other than a plus point, to be honest.

  Dr Turner: Physicists are fairly scarce animals, so maybe you will be all right.

  Q84  Dr Iddon: Danielle, you have given us an indication that you are going to Leeds, but could you give us a feel for what is going to happen to the rest of your people on your subject at Exeter? Is there a general feeling or is it all over the place? Can you tell us the mood of the students?

  Ms Miles: I think it is pretty much all over the place. A lot of people I think have just given up hope. There are a lot of people now left thinking, "What am I going to do?" We put in an awful lot of effort—and I am sure everyone else did as well—thinking about where you wanted to go with your life, choosing a university, deciding what degree to do—it was a big decision—and when you finally reach it and you get there and you are happy and you feel relaxed about it, and then to suddenly have it all ripped apart underneath you and to say, "No, you cannot do that," and you then have to look again and then got to make new decisions, I have taken that as maybe this is a good opportunity, maybe I can go somewhere that I will enjoy more, or whatever.

  Q85  Chairman: How did you hear about it, Danielle?

  Ms Miles: We heard about it through the Press.

  Q86  Chairman: Really? Nobody talked to you at all?

  Ms Miles: Nobody talked to us at all.

  Q87  Chairman: Which Press did you read it in—the local Exeter Gazette, whatever?

  Ms Miles: A lot of rumours were going around and it was all flying around and one of the biggest problems was the lack of communication. We were not told we were going on. In fact I was there for six weeks when we finally got told what had happened, and as far as I am concerned I am pretty sure that they must have had thoughts about this happening before I had even started in my first year, and I would have appreciated it if I had been told when I got my A Levels what was going to happen. They must have had some sort of information that they had problems. We all got settled in, we were all happy, doing well in our course and then suddenly for them to turn round and say, "No." Some people are thinking of transferring, some people are going to stay on because they do not know what else to do, they are just lost, but for me, staying on—

  Q88  Dr Iddon: When you say stay on, do you mean stay on in another subject area?

  Ms Miles: No. Our university is saying that although they are closing the department and they are making pretty much all of the lecturers redundant by 31 July, we can finish our degrees in Exeter. I have turned round personally and said, "How are you going to do that without lecturers, without a department, without labs?" and they have said, "We are not really sure at the moment, but it will be okay, we will sort it for you." I said, "You need to put a plan into place because that is going to be next September," and they are thinking of maybe bringing in temps, maybe buying back people they have made redundant, which I cannot see happening; maybe getting in retired staff or sending us to different universities at different times of the week to do different modules.

  Q89  Dr Iddon: How many people are just going to say, "I have had enough, I am leaving university, I am going to get a job"?

  Ms Miles: I am not sure how many will do that. I know that there are quite a few people who really like Exeter and have decided to do law courses, or a few people have decided to go on to geography or ancient history, which is not their choice but it is the only other thing that they could maybe see themselves doing, and they like Exeter, so that is why they are staying, which has put them off doing science.

  Q90  Dr Iddon: I just want to pursue that hint that you have just put there that it is the university perhaps that attracts more even than the subject. Stephen, if your subject had not been available at your university would you still have gone to the university and studied something else, or would you have gone to another university to study what you have chosen to study?

  Mr Rowley: No, I would have gone to another university to study civil engineering.

  Q91  Dr Iddon: So civil engineering or bust. What about Amy?

  Ms Huntington: I think I would have gone elsewhere as well.

  Q92  Dr Iddon: Ian?

  Mr Hutton: I would have gone elsewhere as well.

  Q93  Dr Iddon: You have made a great play about Exeter, and it is a lovely city, I know Exeter well, but if your subject had not been available there you would have gone to Leeds or somewhere else?

  Ms Miles: Yes, and I am pretty sure a lot of my friends as well who started in the chemistry course, if it was not available they would not have gone to that university. But now because of what has happened and they are unsure about their future, and whether it will happen elsewhere and all the hassles, I think they just seem to think that it is an easier option just to do something else.

  Q94  Dr Iddon: Obviously the physics undergraduate course at Newcastle is being run down. How is that going to impact on your PhD, Amy?

  Ms Huntington: We have not had an actual physics department for a couple of years due to restructure when it was put into a bigger school, so the department has not been in place for about two years. There is no intake of undergraduates on to a plain physics degree come September, that is true, but the year after that I am led to believe that they are going to start a natural sciences degree, obviously in all three sciences, and I am led to believe you will be able to specialise in physics. So in that sense physics is still going to be taught at Newcastle.

  Q95  Dr Iddon: So your PhD is really unharmed, that is what you are saying?

  Ms Huntington: As far as I am aware it should not really make a difference.

  Q96  Chairman: Does it matter to you that departments are closing? You are going to get smaller numbers but they are going to be there, they are going to be bigger, better, we hope, and so on. What do you feel about that? How do you look at that, think about it? Say six chemistry departments closed and the six that were left were wonderful, you would get in, would you not?

  Ms Huntington: There is no guarantee of that, I suppose, is there? That is the thing. I understand why departments are closing and I understand there are problems, but . . .

  Q97  Dr Iddon: What do you think the main problems are? What do you think is causing these departments to close? We are told a number of things, like there is a shortage of people wanting to do chemistry or physics or engineering. What do you think are they reasons they are closing?

  Ms Huntington: Basically I believe it is financial, fundamentally.

  Dr Iddon: Whose fault is that? Is it the universities, whose fault is it?

  Q98  Chairman: Who do you blame?

  Ms Huntington: Who do I blame?

  Q99  Chairman: Nobody, everybody.

  Ms Huntington: Everybody, yes. I think that is the question, is it not?


 
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