IOP makes the case for physics ahead of Welsh, Scottish and Irish elections

25 April 2016

The IOP has made the case for sustained investment in physics at all levels in advance of elections for the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly on 5 May.

Ballot box

It has called on all political parties to ensure that such investment is part of their proposed programmes for government. Physics-based businesses contribute around £2.3 bn to the Welsh economy and £8.5 bn to the Scottish economy, the IOP said, and it was vital that, whichever parties came to power after 5 May, they should recognise the importance of science in each of the two nations.

Economic problems and changes to the education sector would face the incoming governments in both nations, the IOP said, and it was critical that their education systems should be capable of producing enough highly-skilled, scientifically-literate young people to meet the demands of their economies.

In Northern Ireland, while physics-based industries provide more than 27,000 jobs, the contribution of high-tech manufacturing and engineering lags behind the rest of the UK in the proportion of gross value added to the economy, the IOP said. The next executive should work with industry to identify opportunities for growth, it argued.

It also called for increased investment in physics education from primary to university. In particular, the next executive in Northern Ireland should explore ways to re-introduce a separate science subject into the primary school curriculum, identify and tackle the barriers to physics becoming a realistic option at A-level for all students, and commit to closing a funding gap that means universities in Northern Ireland receive £1,000 to £2,500 less per student than universities in England.

The IOP is also calling for a STEM adviser to be appointed in Northern Ireland, as recommended by the 2009 Review of STEM. Specific policy recommendations for Scotland include setting up a new physics-based national research facility, and providing additional funding for Science Centres so that they can offer free public access. In Wales, the IOP wants to see a commitment to protecting the budget for research of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) in real terms and to allocating funding within HEFCW's settlement to sustain teaching of STEM courses in Wales.

The policy statements in each case were drawn up by the Institute of Physics in Wales, Institute of Physics in Scotland and Institute of Physics in Ireland (IOPI). The IOPI also set out a case for increased physics investment ahead of the general election in Ireland held in February. Negotiations to form a new government were continuing in April, but the IOPI’s case remains on the table.

It has called for a commitment to address the gap in access to physics in schools in Ireland; provide more funding for STEM subjects at universities and institutes of technology so as to restore staff: student ratios to an effective level; ensure that the proportion of funding going to basic research is enough to make it sustainable and productive; and explore new ways to encourage collaboration and investment in R&D between the university and business sectors.