Letter:Odds stacked against university science

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Sir: Not wishing to incite panic among the nation's engineers, I am writing to correct an error of detail which I made while explaining how the universities cope if popular departments over-recruit ("Record grades trigger the race for places", 15 August).

Universities have complete discretion to move student numbers between departments, so as to avoid exceeding their total student number, which is set by the Funding Council. However, it is not correct to say, as I did, that over-recruitment in English can lead to a reduction in the numbers of engineering students. This is because that flexibility extends only within subjects in the same fee band.

Over-recruitment of English students would lead other classroom-based subjects to lower their recruitment. The same might happen within the laboratory and workshop-based subjects, in the (alas) rather unlikely event that one of them were over-subscribed. Over-recruitment in biology, for example, could lead universities to cut engineers, chemists or physicists.

However, such is the widespread unpopularity of all science and technology subjects that this would probably be a rare event indeed. Universities do all they can to encourage the recruitment to science and technology. But until society (and employers) value graduates in these subjects properly, the odds are stacked against them.


Press and Public Relations Manager

Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals

London WC1