Money, girls and physics

Professor Sir John Enderby has outlined what he believes are fundamental flaws in the UK higher education system which are causing the closure of physical science departments.

‘In physics, you don’t have to go around making trouble for yourself – nature does it for you.’ – Frank Wilczek.

At the UK’s most prestigious awards ceremony for physicists tonight – the Institute of Physics Awards 2005 at the Savoy Hotel, London – Professor Sir John Enderby will outline what he believes are fundamental flaws in the UK higher education system which are causing the closure of physical science departments.

At the do, Professor Enderby, President of the Institute of Physics, will claim that although the UK has a world-class research base and the demand for physicists as research scientists in industry and business and as teachers has never been higher, the education system is failing us.

Understandably, Enderby thinks that the future of physics, and the Government’s vision for science, depends on changing things about a bit.

He believes that one way to do this is to improve the careers advice in schools so that students get a better idea of the super opportunities available to those that study physics. That’s one good idea, for sure.

And another is to ‘review’ the funding for physics students to reflect the real cost of teaching them. Already in the UK, physics is the first subject where the government will offer means-tested bursaries of around £1000 every year to students who want to study the subject at a UK university. That’s not bad either.

Yet another suggestion might be to ask the government to follow the approach taken by the folks that live in the land of the maple leaf rag (Surely flag? – Ed). Those cunning Canadians have managed an overall decline in the numbers of folks studying physical sciences by successfully attracting more girls to the subject!

But while all of Professor Enderby’s ideas are admirable, we also might like to consider attracting some talent from overseas into the UK, an approach that has been enormously successful in the United States, where preferential visa status is given to foreign folks with PhDs in useful subjects. And physics is certainly a useful subject as I’m sure the Professor would agree.

Out of all the approaches, however, and speaking as a physicist myself, I can honestly say that attracting a few more women to the subject might be the best idea of all! (That’s enough! – Ed.)