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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Science closures 'harm students'
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The Royal Society also criticised research funding changes
The closure of some English university science departments has harmed the welfare of students, the UK's science academy has said.

The Royal Society also accused the Higher Education Funding Council for England of a "simplistic" approach.

In a report to the Commons science and technology committee, the society claimed changes to research funding had resulted in good units closing.

It said there was a long-term decline in school science study.

Decline

The Royal Society stressed it did not necessarily oppose the closure or merger of science departments.

But the welfare of students had to be safeguarded and any change had to improve overall science provision, it argued.

So it was "concerned that some recent examples of closures did not apparently fulfil these conditions".

A spokesman said the closure of Exeter University's chemistry department, for example, had affected students in the middle of their courses.

School science

The Royal Society said that in considering strategic science provision - which is what the select committee is doing - it was "far too simplistic" of the funding council to say departmental closures were "merely a demand side problem".

There was a long-term decline in the popularity of A-level subjects that led young people into the physical sciences, maths and engineering at university.

A priority in reversing this trend was to recruit and retain good science teachers.

But in the past two decades, targets for recruitment to science teacher training courses had been met only between 1991 and '93 - during the economic recession.

The influences on young people's subject choices were complex.

But the "gulf" between school and university could be widened if the average school was not able to give them the necessary experience, especially in maths and practical experiments.

Research

A national network of science centres had been set up, but the society said the government should commit to their long-term funding.

The change to the funding of university research departments was also criticised.

Focusing money on the highest-rated departments meant "the loss of good units with high reputations for their undergraduate courses where the demand had kept up well."

It added: "The formation of regional 'deserts' created by closures of university departments increases the risk of discrimination against those who may need to stay near home because of family commitments, cultural or financial pressures."

The funding council, Hefce, said it was preparing advice for the education secretary, as requested, on "strategic and vulnerable subjects".

But teaching and research in scientific and technical disciplines were crucial to maintaining a strong economy and an inclusive society.

A number of key players needed to work together in what was a complex system and there were "tensions between the needs and priorities of the different stakeholders".




SEE ALSO:
Science closures 'medical threat'
23 Dec 04 |  Education
University confirms subject cuts
20 Dec 04 |  Education
Fewer chemistry courses urged
03 Dec 04 |  Education
Clarke calls for degree safeguards
01 Dec 04 |  Education


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