On 11th October the Institute of Physics (IOP) launched its new report, Gravitating towards physics: How will higher fees affect the choices of prospective physics students? The report, which examines the potential impact of higher fees on young people’s decision to study physics at university, is based on a large research project conducted by YouthSight. A key finding from the report is that in terms of undergraduate degree applications, physics is in a strong position and will continue to attract passionate, curious and intelligent young people who perceive the subject as prestigious, important and view studying it as mark of intelligence. However, while higher tuition fees are unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall number of university applicants who choose to study physics, they are quite likely to threaten progress on making physics a more diverse discipline.
Commenting on the findings, Mia Lorenz, Associate Director at YouthSight, said “this study corroborates other research we’ve conducted at YouthSight recently showing that higher tuition fees are likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on diversity in higher education. Vigorous action is needed now to preserve and extend hard-won gains made to widen participation in higher education, and the education community will need to draw together around this issue.”
The Gravitating towards physics report is based on a three-phase, mixed methods study with university applicants, students and graduates. The first phase was a subject-level analysis of questions around cost and reputation using two years of data from YouthSight’s annual Higher Expectations study, which examines decision-making around entering higher education and choosing a course and university. This approach enabled an analysis of responses from more than 22,000 first-year undergraduates. In a subsequent phase, YouthSight conducted focus groups to thoroughly examine the journey that people take in deciding to study physics at university, taking in questions of reputation, perceptions of employability and attitudes to tuition fees and student debt. The final phase was a survey of more than 500 university applicants with a strong interest in physics, which served to quantify and verify the findings from the second phase.
YouthSight Managing Director Ben Marks added, “We’re delighted to have worked with the IOP on this important project. Because the topic is so relevant to their lives, it really brought out a depth of engagement and response from the university applicants, students and graduates who participated in the research, enabling us to carry out a robust analysis of the effects of recent changes in the higher education landscape.”
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