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HEFCE boosts physics collaboration in the South

Published: 
7 April 2008

A new consortium of university physics departments based in South East England, including that of the University of Southampton, has been awarded £12.5 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to develop and support the regional and national economy through physics.

As well as Southampton, the South East Physics Network (SEPNET) involves the physics departments at the Universities of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, plus Queen Mary University of London and Royal Holloway University of London acting together to promote physics in the region, nationally and internationally.

The SEPNET consortium will be led by an independent chair and will support four main collaborative research themes (see note 2). It will also have a graduate school; an outreach programme to stimulate interest in the subject among pupils in the region’s schools; and a knowledge transfer programme which will include a one-stop shop to regional employers with a special focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The grant comes from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which announced the cash award at its annual conference today (7 April 2008). The announcement marks the latest stage in the Council’s strategy to boost research, learning and knowledge transfer in science nationwide.

Malcolm Coe, Head of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, comments:

“This project represents a holistic approach to boosting science in South East England. The universities will work with schools through exciting outreach programmes, and with employers, large and small, to strengthen the involvement of all parties in the production of world-class physicists. The healthy supply of such people is key to the wealth of region and the country at large. What we are doing here could be the template for a successful UK-wide programme and the University of Southampton will be a key player.”

A review undertaken by HEFCE in 2006 indicated that all the departments faced deficits if they continued to operate in isolation. Professor David Eastwood, HEFCE Chief Executive, says:

“The key to unlocking their potential has been to facilitate and support their collaboration so that they can secure greater levels of activities and leverage additional funds. By working in collaboration they can raise the quality of teaching and research, building on the strengths of the individual departments, and broaden the contribution of physics both through research and the development of highly skilled students.”

The University of Southampton is also heavily involved in a fundamental review of the strength and role of UK physics, which was launched earlier this year by Science and Innovation Minister Ian Pearson.

Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, is chairing the review, which seeks to provide a comprehensive picture of the health of UK physics and its role in underpinning research in many other disciplines.

Notes for editors

    • Collaborative projects include: the Birmingham Warwick Science City Interdisciplinary Research Alliance (Universities of Birmingham and Warwick, £9.6M HEFCE funding); Great Western Research (Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter, £3.9M HEFCE funding) and the Midland Physics Alliance (Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick, £3.9M HEFCE funding).
    • The research programme will integrate resources across the region in the four main research themes:

    Condensed matter physics

    Particle physics

    Astrophysics

    Radiation and detector instrumentation.

    • In addition to the six core members of SEPNET there are two associate members: Oxford and Portsmouth universities, who are involved in the astrophysics research theme.
    • The project has the support of key partners including the South East England Development Association, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, and the Institute of Physics.
    • Total additional funding over the next seven years including resources provided by the universities and partner organisations will be £27.8 million.
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