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The Independent Online
University funding is based on student numbers. Now market economics are being applied to universities, competition between departments is being encouraged. Internal financial league-tables are being drawn up with the departments at the bottom threatened with closure ("Physics first aid", Education+, 6 February). In our current obsession with market economics every Physics department in the country will be under threat of closure because they are expensive to run and have relatively few students. Once the Physics departments are closed spaces would be vacated at the bottom of the financial league tables for Biology and Chemistry, since these laboratory-based courses are the next most expensive. Does closing all the higher-education science departments in Britain demonstrate the success of these economic policies? Or will market forces miraculously leap to the defence of the last battle-weary science departments? I don't think so. Market-force economic models only work in situations where a direct link between supply and demand can be established. In education this is rarely the case.

R W Bateman BSc

Ware, Herts

We are short of physics students ("Physics first aid", Education+, 6 February) for the same reason that we are short of violinists and fast bowlers. Physics is difficult, and we have brought up a generation which expects all activities to be easy.

Francis Roads

London

So Mr Woodhead thinks "standards need to be improved in half of primary schools and two-fifths of secondaries". Perhaps he might like to reconcile this bleak view of the educational system with the fact that standards, as measured by results, have improved year in, year out, for the past 15 years.

It can hardly have escaped his notice that the proportion of youngsters securing "two or more A/AS passes" has doubled over the period 1980 to 1995, while those achieving "five or more GCSEs" has increased from 24 per cent to 43 per cent.

Dr J Murphy

Department of Educational Research,

University of Lancaster

Please send your letters to Education + at The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Fax letters to Education + on 0171 293 2451; e-mail: letters@independent.co.uk

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