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9 September 2011

Latest report on strategic subjects shows sustainability and value for money

HEFCE has continued since 2009 to invest in measures to increase and diversify demand for, and sustain and re-shape the supply of, strategically important subjects: chemistry; engineering; maths; physics; quantitative social science; and modern foreign languages and related area studies. An evaluation of these interventions published today (9 September 2011) confirms that they have provided value for money and made a positive contribution to the sustainability of these disciplines ('Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects: the HEFCE advisory group's 2010-11 report', HEFCE 2011/24).

Analysis of the latest data on the flow of undergraduates suggests that at a time of wider expansion in undergraduate numbers, those in strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) have seen a continued expansion, and at a rate higher than other subjects during recent years. However, some concerns remain, for example among the engineering and modern language disciplines, and with regard to the accessibility of SIVS provision via part-time programmes and at post-1992 institutions.

There has been sustained growth in numbers of postgraduate taught and postgraduate research students during the last decade, and in the SIVS areas growth of taught students has been higher than the average overall. A significant proportion of this growth is, however, attributable to international students, which may lead to concerns about the future viability of these courses.

This report will inform HEFCE's policy on supporting SIVS in the future. HEFCE is currently working with university representatives and key partners such as the national academies, the Research Councils and the government's chief scientists to identify the risks to subject provision in the future. This work will shape a number of collaborative initiatives to address the most significant and urgent risks and determine the approach to monitoring the health of academic subjects in the longer term.