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Alastair Revell is the Managing Consultant of Revell Research Systems, a Management and Technology Consulting Practice based at Exeter in the United Kingdom.
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It is worrying that the University of Reading intends to close its Physics Department in 2010 (as reported by BBC News).

Reading's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gordon Marshall, cites rising costs and reduced funding and alludes to the falling demand for Physics courses. It is important to realise that funding is largely driven by student numbers on such courses.

Professor Marshall's comments echo the concerns of Professor Shadbolt, the incoming British Computer Society President, which I wrote about in an earlier article.

The big question is why students are avoiding Physics (or IT related programmes for that matter).

Some are suggesting that it is because enthusiasm for science is waning. However, my view (which I expressed in my earlier article) is that falling numbers are due to students opting for and being steered towards courses that offer higher chances of success. The increased likelihood of success in these courses is because there is greater scope to give students the benefit of the doubt when assessing poor work. This benefit is often given by institutions lower in the academic chain that are under considerable pressure to achieve high pass rates at any cost.

Bluntly, in numerate disciplines, whether a question is correct is a matter of provable fact whereas in other disciplines there is a higher degree of subjective judgement in the assessment process.

It is important to understand that I am not suggesting that a numerate subject is more or less difficult than another discipline. What I am saying is that the assessment process is open to greater distortion. If a primary school pupil achieves 3 out of 10 in a simple arithmetic test and the pass mark is 50%, they have demonstrably failed. It is not possible to nudge their answer upwards whereas in assessing a painting or a piece of prose, it is much easier to relax the assessment criteria without raising serious questions of integrity.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006 12:36:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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