The state of physics in the United Kingdom

By . Published on 24 January 2014 in:
January 2014, News, , ,

The Institute of Physics [IOP] in the United Kingdom [UK] has just released a report detailing a wealth of statistical data about staffing levels in UK physics departments between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Higher education in the UK has expanded enormously in the last 20 years or so and this data captures some of that expansion in the growth of staff numbers. The headline figures show that staffing levels in higher education have increased by 21% since 2003-2004 with physics staff increasing by 20%. This is quite impressive given that a lot of expansion has occurred in the newer universities that do not teach physics and at the same time a number of physics departments have closed. Physics is now taught in well under half the UK’s universities.

The way staff was categorised changed in 2007-2008, with “other staff” disappearing and “teaching only” emerging. Whilst “other staff” were included in the total staff numbers “teaching only” were not. Taking these into account would have increased total physics staff by 30% and higher education staff by 50%.

The statistics reveal the emphasis placed on research over teaching, with 50% of staff categorized as researchers. Teaching-only staff comprise just 8% of the total. The number of physics professors has grown by 53% since 2003-2004 to constitute 17.7% of the total staff whereas across higher education the equivalent figures are 37% and 10% respectively.

Possibly this reflects the pressure to recruit and retain research-active staff arising from periodic assessments of research output. Anyone applying for a lectureship now stands little or no chance without extensive post-doctoral experience and a long list of publications, so it is perhaps not surprising that nationally the proportion of academic staff from the European Union has slowly risen to 20% among male staff and 29% among females. The proportion of UK nationals has fallen to 61% and 51% respectively compared with a steady 72% across higher education for both genders.

The most interesting statistics are probably those relating to gender. Whereas 22% of graduates are female, only 18% of staff are female. However, only 8% of female staff were professors in 2011-2012 compared with 21% of male staff. The average age of female staff in all categories was lower than that of their male counterparts, so perhaps it is simply a matter of time before some women work their way through to more senior positions. However, among teaching-only staff the proportion of females stands at around 29%, but with only 1.5% of teaching-only staff having reached the level of professor it is to be hoped that these two are not connected.

Read the complete report on the IOP website.

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Download the EPS calendar

The European Physical Society [EPS] has produced a nice do-it-yourself calendar in 3D. The EPS 2014 calendar is a polyhedron with 20 faces including triangles and (almost) squares.

To the best results, print the file using A3 paper (297 × 420 mm or 11.7 x 8.3 inches).

Download the net of the EPS Calendar 2014...