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Is Britain facing a physics brain drain?

By Hamish Johnston

The grass is always greener on the other side of the street.

That old proverb applies to physics research as much as anything else – especially in many European countries where austerity measures are ravaging research budgets.

The UK is no exception and today the Guardian is running a two-page spread about an impending brain drain. The piece caught my eye because it profiles two physicists at opposite ends of the career ladder – Brian Foster and Tom Whyntie. You can read their stories here.

The main article describes an “insidious grinding down of the UK research community” and suggests that UK universities may soon have to shed as many as 30 departments. Individual universities such as Newcastle and Liverpool can look forward to losing research funds totalling £4m and £3.5m per year respectively, claims the article. Less prestigious institutions could be cut off completely.

It sounds like many British scientists will be looking abroad for funds – but if you take another country’s money, they usually expect you to live there.

Not a problem if you luck out and get a job at the University of California at Santa Barbara or the University of Western Australia.

But you will have to be made of tough stuff if you opt for the sweltering humidity of a university in booming South-East Asia or the freezing six-month winters of a campus on the resource-rich Canadian prairies. Or you could find yourself in a prosperous but tiny “college town” in the US, hundreds of miles from the nearest big city.

I suppose if all you want to do is physics, then you don’t care about your surroundings. Indeed, you probably don’t even notice the gentle climate, lovely countryside and vibrant cities surrounding most UK universities.

And I’m not saying that because I am British. I’d like to think that I am part of the Canadian brain drain, although I’m probably flattering myself!

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  1. Dileep Sathe

    I think this is quite possible because of my own experience in the summer 2005. That time I was in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire as a private tutor and felt necessary making comparison of OCR exam with our own HSC exam, here in Maharashtra. The motivation for this came from remark of Dr. Geoff Parks’s (Director, Cambridge Admissions assertion).
    Actually, promising students like to face challenges and in connection with this I think HSC papers are better than OCR papers. I have quoted two points, in support of this conclusion, in a letter to the editor of Evening Standard, London, 13th May 2010, p. 28. Interested readers may feel free to discuss more on this issue using my email address: dvsathe[at]

  2. Ender

    Such are the problems of “underdeveloping countries”.


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