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‘Virtual’ physics centre to attract world-leading talent

The universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Warwick have jointly been awarded £3.9 million to combine their expertise and create a partnership of excellence in physics research and education.

The Midlands Physics Alliance (MPA) will bring together leading academics from all three institutions to undertake large scale research and the formation of a graduate school which will attract the best students from across the world and ‘hot house’ the next generation of scientists.

Over the next five years funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will help to create six lectureships across the three universities and 20 taught postgraduate modules.

The aim of the graduate school is to attract more students and provide them with an educational experience on par with the top US universities. This ‘virtual’ school between the three institutions will have an emphasis on teaching using the Access Grid Technology (video conferencing), with physical meetings taking place to allow students in a given area to network with their colleagues in the region. The universities will share taught modules and their geographical proximity for physical meetings will facilitate a regular sequence of summer schools. The new postgraduate scholarships will provide full support for the very best PhD applicants from anywhere in the world.

Professor Peter Beton, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Nottingham, said: “This new initiative represents an exciting opportunity to raise the standard of education offered to our postgraduate physics students to a level which is comparable with the very best in the world.”

The funding recognises research excellence and the Alliance will see all three institutions work with other organisations, including Advantage WM to secure further funding.

Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell said: “I welcome this excellent example of regional collaboration to support a strategically important subject like physics. If we are to compete on a global level we must continue to increase the demand for and supply of courses in key subjects like physics which is starting to become more popular.

“This Government is doing much to collaborate efforts between the funding council HEFCE, higher education institutions, schools, employers and the learned societies to stimulate student demand in subjects of strategic national importance. Recent data shows there is a higher than average increase in the number of students accepted to study subjects like maths, physics and chemistry.”

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said: “This alliance demonstrates the real advantages that collaboration can bring. It is a means of capitalizing on strengths and will pull together key players in the Midlands to create a centre for world class physics. It also carries forward HEFCE’s policy to support subjects of strategic national importance.”

Emma Thorne | alfa
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