In a statement on its Internet site, the UK university said: "While it would be preferable that physics be part of the portfolio of disciplines at Reading, budgetary constraints mean that it is not practicable to strengthen the Department as much as would be necessary". However, the university expects some aspects of physics teaching to continue in support of related disciplines such as meteorology, environmental science, soil science, systems engineering, archaeology, nano-science and physical chemistry.

The announcement came as a shock to Reading's physicists because a review completed in March, 2006 concluded that the department should remain open and that three new academic members of staff should be appointed.

The call to close the 33-member department has come from the University's Senior Management Board. The final decision will be made by University Council in November. Reading has already closed several other departments in order to cut costs.

The Institute of Physics (IOP), which promotes the interests of physics and physicists in the UK, has been critical of the closure plan. The IOP blames this and other closures on inadequate funding and the fact that incoming students are not choosing physics. "Funding follows student numbers and so the future of Britain’s science base rests on the university choices of sixth-formers" said the IOP's science director, Peter Main.

IOP president Robert Kirby-Harris added, "Measures are in place to try to increase further student numbers and there is some evidence that they are starting to work - closing a department now would seem to be short-sighted and sends out the wrong messages".