Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by ESERO UK, National STEM Centre, University of York (APP 14)

 

Submission to Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into astronomy and particle physics in the UK.

Opportunities for, and threats to, outreach and inspiring the next generation of astronomers and particle physicists

Context

1. Astronomy and Space are among the areas that most stimulate young people about science and technology. As such, they have an important role not just in creating the future generations of astronomers and particle physicists, but all scientists, engineers and technologists.

2. It is essential that this is an ongoing process – any "gap" in the promotion of STEM subjects in schools and universities will to lead to a skills shortage in future years. This is likely to have a knock-on effect since this will also decrease the number of motivated (and motivational) specialist teachers. This is a downward spiral that would be difficult to halt.

3. The Space industry is also a major contributor to the UK economy, with a turnover of about £7.5 billion in 2008/09 with strong growth even in times of economic difficulty (see "The Size and Health of the UK Space Industry" [1] ). To retain this level of growth obviously requires a continuing supply of suitably qualified and motivated employees (especially graduates from suitable STEM disciplines).

4. Because of the recognition of the importance of astronomy and space education and outreach to both these areas, considerable effort in the UK goes into developing and promoting space-based educational resources. STFC is a major contributor to this effort.

ESERO-UK

5. We represent one important aspect of that work – ESERO-UK (European Space Education Resource Office – also known as the UK Space Education Office). ESERO-UK which is based at the National STEM Centre at the University of York has the following aims: (1) Share good practice, and space-related teaching and learning resources, with teachers and college lecturers. (2) Be the first point of contact for the education and space communities when seeking information about space education and careers. (3) Raise the profile of the education work of the European Space Agency (ESA), the UK Space Agency and the wider UK space community with schools and colleges. ESERO-UK is funded by ESA and DfE.

6. Much of the work of ESERO-UK is carried out through a network of "Space Ambassadors" located throughout the UK. These ambassadors are all actively involved in space education and outreach and discover and promote the best resources. The work of the ambassadors is funded in part directly from ESERO-UK and in part by their own organisations (which vary from university research groups, through to schools and science visitor centres).

7. It should be noted that this is a somewhat different model to ESEROs in other parts of Europe where the role has been to develop resources. The wealth of existing resources in the UK makes that less important, but coordination and dissemination is essential if the return on investment in developing the resources is to be maximised.

8. Extensive evaluation of ESERO-UK is a significant part of the project.

9. Still in its early stages, ESERO-UK will become an important focus for space education throughout the UK. The organisational structure of the ESERO-UK project is being considered by ESA as a potential model for similar organisations in France and Germany.

The role of STFC in ESERO-UK

10. STFC has fully supported the setting up of ESERO-UK and was instrumental in defining its aims.

11. STFC and the UK Space Agency have been instrumental in obtaining funding from both DfE and ESA. In addition, some of the Ambassadors are funded as STFC "Science and Society" Fellows.

12. However, future funding from ESA for all ESEROs will be conditional on support from the individual member states.

13. ESERO-UK, therefore, is an example of how the current outreach and education strategy of STFC is making use of existing resources to maximise its impact. It is clearly important that such work (or similar enhancements informed by the results of in-depth evaluation) be able to continue into the future.

Declaration of Interests

14 As mentioned in paragraph 11 STFC has funded some of the individuals working within the ESERO-UK project.

A D Clements
ESERO-UK Manager
A Newsam
ESERO-UK Space Ambassador

15 February 2011


[1] http://www.ukspaceagency.bis.gov.uk/assets/pdf/SandH2010.pdf