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RAS PN06/02: UK Astronomy - Great Prospects But Important Problems To Be Addressed

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Thursday, 26 January 2006 00:00
A report entitled “International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy” was published on 26 January 2006.
The conclusions of the international panel included the following statement:
“The UK continues to enjoy a high standing in astrophysics and solar system physics. The best departments and individuals have outstanding international reputations and there has been considerable growth on several fronts since the 2000 review, both in terms of participation in large international projects and in developing new research areas. The astrophysics and solar system physics enterprise is poised for a very productive decade.”

However, the members of the panel also recognised a number of problems that need to be addressed:
* The panel was deeply concerned that physics has ceased to be an identifiable topic in many universities. They considered that student career choices in secondary schools were not a good basis for driving a significant contribution to the financial health of university departments.
* The panel cautioned that funding agencies need to maintain a balance between the large investments in international facilities and funding opportunities to exploit them.
* The panel challenged the UK to have two female academic members of staff in each university physics and astronomy department by the end of the decade.

Other issues raised by the review included:
* The lack of progress, since the 2000 review, in providing a proper career development environment for post-doctoral scientists. This is an area of major interest to the RAS, and the Society has recently undertaken a major review of career opportunities for PhD students in astronomy. ( See http://www.ras.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=923&Itemid=1 )
* The short duration of UK PhD training is undermining the ability of PhD graduates in physics and astronomy to compete scientifically with their peers from other countries.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

This Review is the ninth in a series aimed at providing international commentary on core fields of the UK’s science and engineering research base, and is the second on physics and astronomy. The first was undertaken in 2000.

The Review was undertaken by a panel of 14 leading international experts in physics and astronomy. The panel were charged to review the state of physics and astronomy in the UK in comparison with other countries and with a previous review in 2000.

The Review was overseen by a Steering Group comprising:
Professor Sir John Enderby FRS (Chair), President, the Institute of Physics;
Professor Kathryn Whaler, President, the Royal Astronomical Society;
Professor John O’Reilly FREng, Chief Executive, EPSRC;
Professor Ian Halliday FRSE (until March 2005), Professor Richard Wade (March- August 2005), and Professor Keith Mason (August 2005-present), Chief Executives, PPARC.

The Review was sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society, together with the Institute of Physics, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics, as representatives of the scientific research community, were also involved in order to facilitate engagement with their respective communities.

For background information about the review and details of the launch of the review report are available at the following web address: http://policy.iop.org/International_Review/

REPORT LAUNCH

The report will be launched at a special briefing taking place at 10.30am on 27 January 2006 at the Institute of Physics, 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT. Professor Jürgen Mlynek, chair of the review panel, will present the panel’s main findings and lead a panel discussion with representatives of the funding councils which commissioned the review.
A general press release about the report is available at:

The 2000 report can be found at:
http://policy.iop.org/Policy/Intrev.html