Arts rejects offered physics places: Universities seek to stem decline in science enrolments with special four-year degree courses

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of universities offering four-year degree courses in physics to A-level students with an arts background has doubled this year as science departments try to stem a decline in enrolment.

When oversubscribed arts and social science courses are turning many applicants away, physics departments are attempting to swell their numbers by enlisting those whose grades have failed to get them places on arts courses.

At least nine universities, including Salford, Kent, Kingston and Surrey, have for the past few years been running conversion courses to prepare non-scientists for physics degrees.

This year Reading is one of a further nine universities running a new scheme, Flexible Learning Approach to Physics, aimed at those students with little or no background in the sciences.

The first year of the four-year course draws on specially devised teaching modules, tailored to meet the individual needs of students and give them a solid grounding before they embark on the degree proper. Dr Geoffrey Mitchell, Reading admissions tutor, said five students had been given places since last week, one a candidate turned down by Reading for an arts place. Not all had particularly good A-level grades, he said. 'We have to be realistic about the grades on offer. We're looking for people who have got some quality, but who also have the enthusiasm and commitment to take on a challenging course.' Dr Mitchell criticised the current A-level system for not giving pupils enough flexibility and breadth in their choice of subjects.

He hoped to persuade more people that a physics degree could be a general 'training for life' in the same way as an arts degree, regardless of whether or not the student chose to pursue a career in the subject. 'A physics degree offers an insight into the wonders of the world around us - and if you don't then want to develop a career in it, you still have all the options you had before.'

Other universities involved in the scheme, sponsored by the Higher Education Funding Council, include Sussex, Lancaster, Loughborough, Royal Holloway and Bedford, Sheffield Hallam, Central Lancashire, Birkbeck, and the Open University. Philip Diamond, at the Institute of Physics, said a physics foundation year would not 'be just a rehash of A-level, but integrated into degree work and better taught'.