The Institute of Physics places skills at the center of the latest reinvention


With the large central London premises of British learned societies put on hold for months during the pandemic and the future of their public lectures and in-person lectures still uncertain, much thought has been given to how these historic institutions might revamp their roles in public and academic life.

This continued quest for relevance is not new to the Institute of Physics (IoP). For decades it has grappled with the issue, given the industrial background of many of its members (today it has around 23,000 and an annual budget of £ 72million) as well as its significant activities academic (he publishes over 100,000 papers per year through dozens of his Bristol-based titles).

In 1970, when it received its royal charter nearly a century after its founding, it rejected the opportunity to rebrand itself as a “royal society” and instead focused on its professional roots as an “institute”. In 2018, he moved from his home amid the embassies and mansions of Portland Place to a purpose-built headquarters in King’s Cross, a stone’s throw from the sprawling £ 1billion Google offices and the neighborhood emerging from the knowledge of the region, but also closer to Islington. schools, which its staff visit regularly.

Today, its latest reinvention as a professional body leading the charge of developing the UK’s young and workforce in the physics-based skills many businesses need has come at an opportune time, with the Boris Johnson’s ‘skills, competencies, skills’ conservative conference speech highlighting the region as a top government priority.

Raising the profile of physics-based industries, worth £ 177 billion a year to the UK economy (around 10 percent of gross domestic product), according to IoP calculations, is one way to the institute to advocate not only for more investment in vocational training but also for more research funding, said Louis Barson, director of science, innovation and skills for the organization.

“The photonics industry is one of the UK’s hidden gems – it is worth over £ 14 billion a year and employs around 200,000 people, making it comparable on an industry scale aviation, ”explained Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on the little-known network of companies using light science, such as those making fiber optic cables for broadband services or electronics General public.

But the growth of these high-tech, high-wage physics-based industries has recently been hampered by a skills shortage, he continued. “We did a survey and found that two-thirds of physics-based companies stopped or delayed hiring because they didn’t have access to the right skills. “

Because tackling this issue requires a long-term approach, the IoP strategy, launched in 2019, also focuses on improving subject ownership at A level and at learning level, in part by demystifying the subject’s perceptions.

“We asked 2,000 parents about physics, and it has often been described as a boring, lonely endeavor – but we know it’s wrong,” said Ray Mitchell, head of the Limit Less campaign strategy to combat. myths about physics.

“You might hear all about the scientist who took the photo of a black hole two years ago because it’s an easier story to tell, but there were actually over 200 people involved in it. photo, ”he explained, adding that“ tackling stereotypes will help more people choose physics ”.

To do this, it will be crucial to increase adoption among girls, who represent only one in five A-level physics students, said Charles Tracy, education manager, who notes that physics is the second most popular subject for boys but just the 15th most popular subject for girls.

“You don’t see this difference in independent schools, where girls learn physics at the same rate as boys,” Mr. science said, rather than biology, chemistry and physics at the individual level.

For Mr Barson, the Westminster government’s spending review has been “a key moment, and we want to make sure there is an ambition to tackle the things that matter.” But if we don’t get what we need, we have to keep the pressure on until the next budget.

Demonstrating the economic importance of physics research and education is now literally at the heart of IoP, with its ground floor home to a number of physics-based start-ups keen to gain a foothold in the field. emerging technology scene in the region.

“The physics-based economy has great growth potential, but we need to tackle these structural issues if the UK is to move forward,” Barson explained of challenges for his organization and the UK. . “We have to master the basics if we are truly to be a leading science nation. “

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