Strategically important subjects need ongoing support

26 May 2011

Following the publication by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) of an evaluation of its programme to sustain provision and boost uptake of strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS), such as physics, the Institute of Physics (IOP) has reasserted the need to maintain support.

Institute of Physics News

Professor Peter Main, Director of Education and Science at IOP, said, “Since HEFCE began providing support to strategically important and vulnerable subjects, university physics departments are facing a more secure future and student numbers have been steadily increasing. After years of departmental closures, we are even beginning to see physics courses appearing.

“Recognition of the need to support properly the teaching of certain critical subjects has sent the right message to key decision-makers, such as vice-chancellors, and is helping to ensure that sufficient numbers of students are able to study the subjects that are vital in supplying the workforce the UK needs.

“The Institute continues to support HEFCE’s aims both to drive demand for strategically important subjects, while also ensuring there are sufficient access opportunities; our involvement in the HE STEM Programme led by the University of Birmingham is a major component. We are also working with universities to ensure they are able to communicate the value of a physics degree to prospective students.

“Our Stimulating Physics Network, now a national project funded by the Department for Education, was initially piloted thanks to HEFCE’s support.  It has now reached well-over 3,000 non-specialist physics teachers, equipping them with the knowledge, pedagogy and confidence to teach and inspire students to study the subject further.  

“We are reaping the benefits of these initiatives now and will continue to do so for years to come.  However, we have a lot of lost ground to recover to overcome the dramatic decrease in the proportion of students obtaining the skills needed for a thriving UK economy. 

“This is no time to be complacent about what we have achieved, particularly with the uncertainty regarding the university fees regime. The recovery in student numbers is still fragile and it is essential that every effort continues to be made to ensure that UK students are given every opportunity to obtain the skills they need to help the UK to meet the challenges of the twenty first century.”