Mercury manometers, out-of-date computers and pressure gauges calibrated in pounds per square inch. These are some of the pieces of obsolete equipment that UK students are using in undergraduate laboratories, according to a report published at the end of September. The financial pressures of recent years mean that universities and colleges in England and Wales need to spend between £373 m and £402 m over the next three years to bring their teaching equipment up-to-date, says the report. This is almost 80% of the total amount of money spent on teaching equipment since 1993.

The shortage of research equipment in UK universities is a familiar story (Physics World 1996 July pp6-7), but this study is the first to look specifically at the state of teaching equipment. Carried out by policy researchers at Manchester University, the survey found that 8% of equipment bought since 1993 is already technically inadequate and that only 23% of items have a remaining useful life of more than five years. Universities also rely on a large stock of old equipment, 17% of which is broken or in poor working condition.