Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  Q100  Dr Iddon: Do you understand the financial arguments or are they a bit too complicated for students to get their heads around, do you think?

  Ms Huntington: I understand some of it, or I think I understand some of it; obviously I do not understand the whole thing.

  Q101  Chairman: You are in good company, the lecturers do not either, so do not worry about that!

  Ms Huntington: I understand that the funding situation from HEFCE is not as ideal as it could be, and certainly they are creating different bands that are not being favourable towards the sciences.

  Q102  Dr Iddon: What about the other three students, do you have a view as to what is causing these closures and whose fault is it? Who do you blame?

  Ms Miles: I think it is financial, as was said. Money needs to be put in to make money and they need to put it into the right places and invest in the right places. But I think money also needs to be invested in lower levels. I know you all had good science teachers, but I obviously did not. I mean, 12 of us started out on a chemistry course, which is quite a small sixth form, and I was the only one who actually sat my A Levels, and I feel that if we had teachers there, if we had people who were enthusiastic about it more people would have wanted to do it. I was thinking the other day, the whole Army recruitment drive that has been going on with all the things on the television, about how many different careers you can get in the Army, I feel if something like that was done for the sciences, like if you had TV adverts, with really random jobs that people would not necessarily associate with having a chemistry degree, that would give people the incentive to think, "Maybe I should do something like that." I think it is where the money is placed is the problem.

  Dr Iddon: No risk to your life in the Army, you just get a job!

  Q103  Dr Turner: A lot of other degree subjects actually depend on the basic sciences to underpin them. For instance, Ian, you are doing a biology degree, but unless biology at undergraduate level has changed since my day you have to do a certain amount of chemistry, so you presumably spent some time working in the chemistry department at UEA?

  Mr Hutton: Not really; I did no chemistry at university at all.

  Q104  Dr Turner: It has changed then.

  Mr Hutton: I think I did a ten-credit unit in it in the first year as a top-up from A Level chemistry for biologists; but there is no teaching within chemistry.

  Q105  Dr Turner: So you would not have felt that if your chemistry department was go to it would affect you?

  Mr Hutton: It would not affect me, but it would affect people on other degree courses which were related to biology, such as biochemistry, but because I am doing straight biology everything I do is within the School for Biological Sciences.

  Q106  Dr Turner: Physics again is one of the great enablers. Do you have to do a physics module in your engineering course?

  Mr Rowley: I did in the first foundation years, yes.

  Q107  Dr Turner: So your course would have been undermined without a physics department?

  Mr Rowley: Totally, yes.

  Q108  Dr Turner: Does Aston still have a physics department?

  Mr Rowley: It does not actually have a physics department itself, it is all part of the engineering part.

  Q109  Dr Turner: Do you feel that that weakened the physics input into your degree?

  Mr Rowley: I do not suppose so, not in any major sense because most of it was engineering related and so all the lecturers had a good knowledge of it, and I do not think it was a problem.

  Q110  Dr Turner: Have you noticed ay impact on the other subjects in Newcastle with the impending closure of undergraduate figures?

  Ms Huntington: The joint programmes, anything with maths and physics, chemistry and physics will have ceased as well, but as far as I am aware—

  Q111  Dr Turner: So it is having quite an impact then. It is knocking out other subject choices on the way?

  Ms Huntington: Indirectly, yes.

  Q112  Chairman: Why do you think we need science graduates in this country at all, giving me a refreshing view on that, please? You are starting your careers, as it were, why do you think it is important to have science graduates? If you had the Prime Minister in front of you, what would you say to him, why you are important? Each of you come in at it, please.

  Mr Hutton: At the commercial end science is an industry and if Britain is going to compete then Britain needs graduates and high profile scientists to be able to keep that industry going.

  Q113  Chairman: Amy?

  Ms Huntington: Yes, British industry, if you want to make your scientists and you want to make science feasible then you need science graduates.

  Q114  Chairman: Danielle?

  Ms Miles: I think it is the only way realistically to progress with the rest of the world into the future, into the new technologies and to find out the development, and without it you cannot carry on.

  Q115  Chairman: Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: There is no way it can progress without civil engineers.

  Q116  Chairman: My last question to each of you again is: what do you enjoy most at university? Let us take it for granted that you like the science and the course that you are doing. You have told us that. But what is it that is so magic about university, if at all? I know you are going through hell at the moment, Danielle, but you must have had in that time a few moments of pleasure.

  Ms Miles: It is chemistry related but it is to do with everyone at university; it is being able to share knowledge, and to be given knowledge from people that know more than you, and seeing their faces when they tell you something and you finally actually understand what they are talking about, and it all suddenly clicks into place. That is what it is all about, the sharing of knowledge and learning more.

  Q117  Chairman: Do you feel that, Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: Not to such a large degree, but there is a lot of good stuff.

  Q118  Chairman: Not as passionate perhaps! Not as good teachers, perhaps! Ian?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, I guess it is the fact that you still have a certain amount of freedom; it is not a nine to five job, and yet at the same time you are still learning things and you still have a certain amount of responsibility, and it is nice to have that mix really, and different aspects of things in your life at that time.

  Q119  Chairman: Amy?

  Ms Huntington: I like learning new things. I am nosy, I like finding things out, and I have to admit from a personal point of view I like our department, our staff, our academics, everything—it is just a really nice place to be most of the time.

  Chairman: So no regrets, any of you. Can I say that you have been really very refreshing? You are a great advert for the British university system. Thank you very much, and stick with it. Danielle, I do hope it works out for you. Thank you very much. You are very welcome to stay. Thank you for taking time off. You may think you have contributed nothing, but you have stimulated and enthused us again who may be getting a bit old in the tooth and tired, but certainly it is nice to see that it still goes on to the level it does, and we are examining why things may be going a little wrong here and there. Thank you very much.

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