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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Universities to protect subjects
Science
Funding chiefs have warned that courses might have to merge
"Vulnerable" subjects which have struggled to attract students could be protected by joint efforts between a number of universities.

Representatives of a dozen institutions and England's funding council have had a meeting with the Open University.

There have been concerns about how "strategic" subjects, including some sciences and languages, could be sustained in higher education.

There have been course closures in physics and modern languages.

The Open University says the two-day gathering of university representatives considered whether they should pursue a joint approach to a "national problem facing strategic and vulnerable courses".

Joint funding

This could lead to a consortium and a joint bid for funding.

"We are pleased at the reception of an idea that we feel offers a workable solution to the problem of shortage subjects in science and modern languages.

"Now we're all working toward putting a solid bid before the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) as soon as possible," said Professor David Vincent, the Open University's pro-vice chancellor.

The universities meeting at Milton Keynes were Aston, Central Lancashire, Coventry, Loughborough, Manchester, Nottingham Trent, Reading, Royal Holloway, Salford, Sheffield and Southampton.

Delegates were mostly drawn from science and language departments.

Also represented were Hefce and the Institute of Physics.

Earlier this year, the funding council warned that departments of threatened subjects might have to merge, in order to have sufficient numbers to maintain viable departments and research staff.

'National centres'

Where there was an economic or national need to maintain subjects, Hefce head Sir Howard Newby said it might be necessary to concentrate resources in national centres.

At present, funding council figures show that subjects such as French and German are widely and thinly spread - with a number of universities having fewer than a dozen undergraduates taking French courses.

There have been department closures in physics, chemistry and maths.

Sir Howard indicated that national centres might also be necessary to promote subjects which were of strategic importance, but which lacked student numbers - including languages such as Chinese and Arabic and regional studies in former Soviet Union states and eastern Europe.

Last year, when Charles Clarke was education secretary, he called for the safeguarding of strategically-important subjects, such as Arabic, Chinese, engineering and languages spoken in recent EU accession states.

The former head of Universities UK, Professor Ivor Crewe, has said that the UK might be better off with fewer, but larger and better-funded, chemistry departments.


SEE ALSO:
Struggling courses 'will merge'
28 Jun 05 |  Education
University confirms subject cuts
20 Dec 04 |  Education
Clarke calls for degree safeguards
01 Dec 04 |  Education


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