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The evaluation report indicates that the programme of support contributed strongly to sustaining provision in SIVS, which include chemistry, physics, engineering and maths, as well as modern languages and quantitative social sciences. Without HEFCE-funded SIVS interventions it is unlikely that provision would have been sustained to the same extent.

The report also indicates that HEFCE’s support demonstrated strong leadership without heavy-handed market interference, sending strong signals to the sector about the importance of SIVS. Vice-chancellors suggested the programme contributed to the financial health of key academic departments and raised staff morale.

The programme has made a lasting difference in the way this type of intervention is undertaken, the report claims. Collaboration has improved, between schools and higher education institutions, researchers, professional bodies and other HE funders.

It also enabled a substantial body of knowledge on how to address vulnerabilities in subject provision. This covers the causes of vulnerability, which types of intervention are effective, and good practice in conducting interventions. Without HEFCE-funded work, the report concludes, this knowledge base would have been less coherent.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'I am delighted that our support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) has brought real and lasting benefits to the higher education sector. This has boosted aspiration and demand for university places in key subjects and sustained provision in the sector; plus we now know more about the most effective ways to work in partnership to achieve these results.

'In the past three years, for example, physics, chemistry and maths numbers have increased by 6 per cent compared with a 3 per cent rise in undergraduate numbers overall (see note 4). Another example of success is our £4.3 million investment with University of Lincoln and Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery Ltd (SITL), which has enabled the first purpose-built School of Engineering to be created in the UK for more than 20 years, and will take shape in an engineering collaboration between the University of Lincoln and Siemens. And we have created a world-class cadre of researchers that will enhance the UK's understanding of the Arab world, China and Japan, Eastern Europe, and the former USSR.

'But difficult choices now have to be made. Whilst the findings of this evaluation will influence HEFCE’s future policy and approach to SIVS, that has to be seen in the context of significant reductions to grant and greater volatility in the new fees and funding regime. We are working with key partners such as the Research Councils, the National Academies and the government's scientific advisers to develop a new approach fit for the new world.'

The report, 'Evaluation of HEFCE's programme of support for Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects: A report to HEFCE by Curtis+Cartwright Consulting' is available in full.

Notes

  1. The subjects considered to be strategically important and vulnerable are:
    • chemistry, engineering, maths and physics
    • area studies and related minority languages
    • quantitative social science
    • modern foreign languages.
  2. The HEFCE SIVS programme runs from 2005 to 2011 with an investment of £350 million. There is more information about HEFCE's work on SIVS.
  3. In developing its future approach to SIVS, HEFCE will work with key partners to identify the need for protecting the public interest in subject provision. This will draw on the evidence necessary to identify and respond to risks to subject provision as a result of the system of funding teaching, and will include improvements to information, advice and guidance for students as well as co-funding with other interested parties.
  4. The latest data, alongside an analysis of undergraduate and postgraduate trends, will be available on the HEFCE web-site in July 2011.