Going, going, gone

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The Independent Online
The death knell tolled for physics degrees at the University of East Anglia at a senate meeting at the start of this term. This year's intake of 18 first years, currently wrestling with relativity, quantum physics and wavepower, would be the last, governors decreed. Though research and post-graduate work would continue, the undergraduate course would be phased out, the victim of falling applications and rising costs.

Dr Richard Jones, pro-vice chancellor, who has responsibility for UEA's science departments, admits to a combination of "extreme sadness and an element of relief" at the demise of the 34-year-old undergraduate physics degree.

Problems began 12 years ago, with a decline in applicant numbers to an already small department. By the last academic year, undergraduate numbers had plummeted by a third in two years and the university was subsidising physics to the tune of around pounds 300,000 at a time of stretched budgets. A review was held, but axing the pure physics course was judged the only viable option. Some universities have lowered admissions criteria to combat the problem, but UEA rejected that route as a short-term solution.

"The underlying problem nationally is of too few students chasing too many places," says Dr Jones. "The numbers doing A-level physics is continuing to decline, so it is clear that trend will continue."

The reasons for the subject's falling popularity have baffled UEA admissions staff, since they can detect little change in the calibre or profile of each batch of new undergraduates. "It may be to do with perceptions of job prospects, or perhaps changing fashion," Dr Jones says. "But I feel great disappointment that we are operating in a climate in which such a key subject, both for economic prosperity and culture as a whole, can disappear"n