Archive for Campaign for Science and Engineering

Acting and Clearing

Posted in Education, Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by telescoper

Now that I’m back from my trip to Copenhagen, it’s going to be back to work with a vengeance. To those of you who think academics have massively long summer breaks, I can tell you that mine ends on Monday when I will be doing a stint as Acting Head of School. That’s not usually a particularly onerous task during the summer months, but next week happens to be the week that A-level results come out and it promises to be a hectic and critical period. It’s obviously a sheer coincidence that all the other senior professors have decided to take their leave at this time…

There are several reasons for this being a particularly stressful time. First the  number of potential students applying to study Physics (and related subjects) this forthcoming academic year (2011/12) in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University was up by a whopping 53% on last year. I blogged about this a few months ago when it became obvious that we were having a bumper year.

The second reason is that Cardiff’s  School of Physics & Astronomy has been given a big increase in funded student numbers  from HEFCW. In fact we’ve been given an extra 60 funded places (over two years), which is a significant uplift in our quota and a much-needed financial boost for the School. This has happened basically because of HECFW‘s desire to bolster STEM subjects as part of a range of measures related to the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans for the regions. Preparations have been made to accommodate the extra students in tutorial groups and we’re even modifying one of our larger lecture rooms to increase capacity.

Unfortunately the extra places were announced after the normal applications cycle was more-or-less completed, so the admissions team had been proceeding on the basis that demand would exceed supply for this year so has set our undergraduate offers rather high. In order to fill the extra places that have been given to us late in the day, even with our vastly increased application numbers, we will  almost certainly have to go into the clearing system to recruit some of the extra students.

In case you didn’t realise,  universities actually get a sneak preview of the A-level results a couple of days before the applicants receive them. This helps us plan our strategy, whether to accept “near-misses”, whether to go into clearing, etc.

On top of these local factors there is the sweeping change in tuition fees coming in next year (2012-13). Anxious to avoid the vastly increased cost of future university education many fewer students will be opting to defer entry than in previous years. Moreover, some English universities have had cuts in funded student places making entry highly competitive. As an article in today’s Observer makes clear, this all means that clearing is likely to be extremely frantic this year.

And once that’s out of the way I’ll be working more-or-less full time until late September on business connected with the STFC Astronomy Grants Panel, a task likely to be just as stressful as UCAS admissions for both panel members and applicants.

Ho hum.

Advertisements

Local Matters

Posted in Education, Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by telescoper

I think I’ve caught up with most of the signficant things that happened during my travels, so I thought I’d end this series of updates with some local news from Cardiff (and Wales generally).

First, I can pass on some information relating to the  number of potential students applying to study Physics (and related subjects) this forthcoming academic year (2011/12) in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University.  I blogged about this a few months ago when it became obvious that we were having a bumper year. As it turns out, we finished with applications up by a whopping 53% on last year.

Second, and related to the first item, the detailed allocations of university funding in Wales have finally filtered down all the way from HEFCW, through the Cardiff University management, and onto individual schools.  As it happens, this has also turned out not too badly for us here in Physics & Astronomy. For various reasons we’ve finally been given the increase in student numbers that we have been requesting for some time without success. In fact we’ve been given an extra 60 funded places, which is a significant uplift in our quota and a much-needed financial boost for the School. This has happened basically because of HECFW‘s desire to bolster STEM subjects as part of a range of measures related to the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans for the regions.

Unfortunately the admissions team have so far been proceeding on the basis that demand would exceed supply for this year so has set our undergraduate offers rather high. In order to fill the extra places that have been given to us late in the day, even with our vastly increased application numbers we may have to go into the clearing system to recruit some of the extra bodies. We’ll have to wait until the A-level results come out in August, however, before we know what the situation really is.

It would have been a lot easier if we’d known the rules at the start of the game, rather than near the end, but that’s the way it goes when politicians start tinkering with things…

We will have to lay on extra tutorials and laboratory sessions to cope with the anticipated increase in student numbers, which will be a bit of a struggle, but the extra money they bring in should keep the wolf from the door for a while.

Another thing worth mentioning concerns research in Wales. In the run-up to the Welsh Assembly elections, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE) produced a couple of interesting documents. One was about science policy in the devolved nations and the other was a comparison of STEM subjects across the UK.

These documents make it clear that Wales lags far beyond England and (particularly) Scotland in terms of investment in, and productivity of, its scientific research.  In its  recommendations for Wales, CASE included

    • The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales must increase its investment in research – as well as improving the research base directly, this investment should bring more success in winning competitive, UK-wide funding. The indirect costs of charitably funded research should continue to be covered.
    • Policies should continue to build up the critical mass of research through collaboration, including with overseas researchers or businesses.

As I reported recently, we (Cardiff, Swansea and Aberystwyth) have tried to persuade HECFW to fund a Welsh physics initiative, intended to achieve precisely what CASE suggests. Unfortunately HECFW turned our bid down. At least for the short term, additional investment in physics research is clearly not on the agenda for HEFCW.  There’s not much sign of it happening in the future either, but we will have to wait and see…

Share/Bookmark