Outreach activities: A summary for UK university science departments

Abstract

The dictionary definition refers to surpassing, outwitting or the act of ‘reaching out’. The Funding Councils see it as “widening access and improving participation in higher education…… to equip people to operate productively within the global knowledge economy. It also offers social benefits, including better health, lower crime and a more tolerant and inclusive society”.Here in the Physical Sciences, whilst reaching out to widen access is an important part of our agenda, we see Outreach activities as primarily being targeted at improving the recruitment and retention of students. Many Physical Science departments are struggling to attract sufficient numbers of students and virtually all of us are also unhappy that the more able students are not choosing science for their higher and further education. This has led to the complete closure of a number of departments; a merger with cognate disciplines for some, or relegation to a ‘service teaching’ role for others. Since 1996, 28 universities have stopped offering chemistry degrees and almost a third of university physics departments have closed in the same period. Despite this dramatic fall in capacity, there is still a shortfall that is a major cause of concern for all but a handful of institutions.There is a great deal of confusion within Universities as to how and why this situation has arisen and in this article I will attempt to collect and summarise items that have a direct bearing on these issues.The first part will include the results of surveys into student preferences, public attitudes to science and scientists and lecturers’ own opinions on the subject. The second part will summarise the recommendations from a number of sources who have given much thought to alleviating the situation and the final section will look at a selected number of institutions that are actively generating materials and methods that could be more widely adopted in order to improve the current climate

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This paper was published in University of Leicester Open Journals.

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