Physics and chemistry departments need more funds to meet demand, says report

5 November 2015

Most physics and chemistry departments run with substantial deficits and funding is not keeping pace with the increase in undergraduates, a report launched today shows.

The Finances of Chemistry and Physics Departments in UK Universities: Third Review

The report, The Finances of Chemistry and Physics Departments in UK Universities: Third Review, was produced jointly by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Physics (IOP).

It shows that while the numbers of undergraduate students in physics and chemistry has increased significantly in recent years, this increase has not been matched by a proportionate increase in funding. This means that most UK university chemistry and physics departments continue to run deficits in teaching and research and operate at a substantial deficit overall.

The study looked in detail at 10 physics and 10 chemistry departments and found that in chemistry departments the overall deficit was 21% of income and in physics it was 19% of income. For English university departments, money to support strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) plays a vital role. But SIVS funding has been capped, so the amount received per student has been going down as student numbers have increased.

The report calls for support for teaching and research in physics and chemistry departments to be maintained and increased. Although uptake of STEM subjects at university has improved, it is estimated that there is still a shortfall of 40,000 STEM graduates each year in the UK. To close this gap would require a 50% increase on the numbers graduating in 2012/13.

On the launch of the report, Professor Roy Sambles, president of the IOP, said: “UK physics and chemistry departments make a vital contribution to UK productivity and are essential for training the next generation of STEM-skilled employees. Their research also underpins major aspects of UK innovation and addresses modern policy challenges.

“We are currently approaching a government spending review. In this context it is important to ensure that these departments, which are essential to the UK’s future prosperity, are kept on a sustainable footing and can continue to work to their full potential.”

Professor Sir John Holman, president-elect of RSC, said: “Investment in chemistry and physics is critical to the future of the UK economy. While UK chemistry and physics departments have made significant efficiency savings over recent years, they continue to operate at a substantial and unsustainable deficit.

“These laboratory courses can be expensive to run but while they are strategically important they are also vulnerable. Chemistry and physics departments are heavily dependent on public funding, making them especially susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy.”