Response to Higher Education Impact Report

14 March 2013

Following the publication of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) report, Higher education in England, Impact of the 2012 reforms, today, Thursday 14 March, Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics (IOP), highlights the long-term growth in the number of students choosing to study physics at university.

People in higher education

He said, “As the report records, the continuing increase in accepted applicants – 19 per cent over the last six years – is sustaining in the new fees regime.

“It will be reassuring to politicians and higher education policy makers that the 2012 tuition reforms have not dampened the enthusiasm of many students to study physics at university.

“We believe that factors underlying this increase include a renewed public interest in physics and students’ sharper focus on the careers opened up by their choice of degree, as well as the fundamental role of physics teachers. We know that our own Stimulating Physics Network, focused on the delivery of excellent physics teaching in schools across England, is helping to drive the increase at A-level which has translated into sustained increases at undergraduate level.

“The report also sets out HEFCE’s intention to keep a close eye on issues relating to diversity within higher education and, separately, how financial reforms could impact uptake of post-graduate education for the undergraduates currently studying under the new regime.

“These are both areas of vital importance to physics.  The subject should be open to anyone with the interest in and capability to study it, regardless of gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity or disability.  For physics, one of the major concerns is the gender divide – often a result of factors occurring long before girls consider applying to university - which is why we are looking to address issues for girls earlier in the education pipeline. 

“On post-graduate study, it is true that today’s post-graduate physics researchers are tomorrow’s leaders – in science itself but also across key industries in the UK, from business to finance and law. As a nation, we must ensure that those with the capability are not denied the opportunity to study physics beyond undergraduate because of debt concerns.

“Many of the findings in the report require closer analysis before comment but, overall, we are pleased that physics departments continue to grow and that, importantly, HEFCE is looking to the horizon and preparing for problems associated with both diversity and post-graduate study. 

“They are issues that the IOP will also continue to monitor to ensure a diverse and vibrant academic physics base continues to benefit England and the rest of the UK and Ireland.”

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