Skip to main content

Physics and Astronomy

Volume 480: debated on Thursday 16 October 2008

8. What the Government’s policy is on the future of physics and astronomy teaching in universities. (227254)

Physics has been designated as a strategically important subject and we have asked the Higher Education Funding Council to work with others to increase and sustain both the demand for and supply of physics graduates. We are pleased that the number of physics and astronomy students has increased.

I know that the Minister will disagree, as I do, with those who say that it is engineers who create the wealth and that the scientists just spend it. We need the science to get the engineering going. In that respect, does the Minister believe we will see more science and innovation campuses, or will the current science funding settlement prevent that from happening?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a planned increase of 17 per cent. in our science budget over the next three years. Fantastic world-class science is being carried out across the country, and that is against a backdrop of increases in every subject in the number of students studying science at A-level. That is something to applaud and celebrate, as we can look forward to an increase in science and, as a consequence, in engineering in coming years.

I add my congratulations to both Ministers and wish them well in their new posts.

The future of physics and astronomy teaching in universities could be affected by the substantial problems with Icelandic and other offshore deposits. Will the Minister update the House on that potentially serious blow to our universities? In particular, £77 million has already been identified, but is the Minister aware of any further at-risk offshore deposits?

This is obviously a serious issue, but to put it in context I can say that the HEFC advises that front-line services and services to students will not be affected. We understand that 12 universities have placed money on deposit with Icelandic banks, and the total amount involved is £77 million. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that discussions are being held between the Treasury and Iceland on these matters.