Feeds

MPs call for radical reform of UK university science

Change, or fizzle out

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

The House of Commons select committee for science and technology has called for a radical reform in the way universities organise and fund the teaching of science subjects.

It says short-termism has led to a decline is students graduating with science degrees, and has prompted departmental closures. Acknowledging that there is unlikely to be a sudden influx of extra cash, the committee instead proposes a totally new approach.

At the moment, university departments are graded on a scale of 1 - 5*, and future funding is determined according to the grade. A 5* or 5 rating is only awarded to a "world class" facility, and will get considerably more money than a department that wins a rating of 4, reflecting a status of "national excellence".

Universities that don't get a 5 or 5* rating often struggle to improve. The Register understands that such institutions often have trouble attracting the best research staff, because of fears in the academic community that a rating of four means a department is almost certain to close.

Exeter and Newcastle universities have recently pulled the plug on some science degrees. Exeter closed its chemistry department, and Newcastle shut down pure physics. The committee says this is also a result of short, rather then long-term planning.

In a report (pdf) Strategic Science Provision in English Universities, the committee said "Unless some important long term measures are taken to ensure the sustainability of the sector, the Government may find that it does not have enough STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates to meet its economic goals," the report cautions.

Instead, it wants universities to specialise, playing to their strengths, to avoid further closures. It says universities also need to work together, using a "hub and spokes" system. Under this scheme, instead of all 130 universities competing for funds, institutions should collaborate, and pool resources under the guidance of a new Regional Affairs Committee.

This committee would make sure that each region had at least one major "research hub" in each of the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other universities would then focus on research, teaching or knowledge transfer, and bid for funds accordingly.

However, the suggestion has not been well received. "Collaboration is already a natural and integral part of higher education in the UK at all levels of academic activity, in both teaching and research, and the sector is in the best position to explore how this can be enhanced and built on," a spokesman for Universities UK told the BBC. "A rigid structure that is imposed by the funding councils or government - as the committee suggested - would be not be desirable." ®

Related stories

Scientists complain of industrial meddling in research
How computers make kids dumb
MPs condemn e-Uni disaster - again

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Intel's Raspberry Pi rival Galileo can now run Windows
Behold the Internet of Things. Wintel Things
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.