Physics is booming but diversity and careers advice still lacking

15 November 2013

In a speech tonight, Dr Frances Saunders, President of the Institute of Physics (IOP), will highlight the good health of physics in the UK but express ongoing concern for the need to instil greater diversity in the professions and industries related to physics.

Physics is booming but diversity and careers advice still lacking

At the IOP Awards Dinner, Dr Saunders will celebrate this year’s 8% increase in applications for physics at university and comment upon a new report, published today, which finds that the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees has not dampened the enthusiasm of the majority of prospective students for physics.

The report produced by YouthSight, specialists in youth and student research, found that prospective students regard physics as “a prestigious, well-respected and fundamental subject.”

The research published today was compared with last year’s data which showed that students this year were more determined to study physics at university than students last year. It also found, however, that prospective students this year still felt there was a lack of obvious career signposts for physics.

Along with concerns about the availability of careers advice, the report also highlights the potential impact of £9,000 tuition fees on diversity. The report identifies changes in this year’s prospective physics intake in terms of gender, ethnicity and social class, where these groups stated that they were more likely to take action to mitigate higher fees by, for example, choosing a more applied/vocational subject.

As Dr Frances Saunders, the IOP’s President, will say at the Awards Dinner tonight, “I welcome the overall conclusion of today’s report: that physics continues to have a very positive brand image and that fees of up to £9,000 have had no impact on the decision of the majority of those considering physics at university.

“However, the report does raise one note of caution – that women, non-white applicants and those from lower socio-economic grades are more likely to be deterred by fear of debt.  As we all know, physics already faces a very significant diversity challenge, and any factors likely to exacerbate the situation must be a real cause for concern.”

The full report can be viewed at http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2013/file_61862.pdf

Before the awards are picked up by this year’s winners, Dr Saunders will comment on Professor Peter Higgs’ Nobel Prize and commend all of those involved in the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Dr Saunders will also highlight the £100 billion worth of exports created each year by physics-based businesses in the UK.



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