Funding formula in England is failing: chemistry evidence to Commons committee
The funding formula for science provision at English universities is a failure, says the Royal Society of Chemistry.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England's funding system is at the heart of a problem that threatens higher education chemistry in this country, says the society in a report to the Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Dr David Giachardi, RSC chief executive, said today: "We have submitted our written evidence to the Science and Technology Committee which is to examine strategic science provision in English universities. And in it we pull no punches because time is running out and action needs to be taken soon.
"We stress the fact that chemistry is at a critical point in its history and that it holds the key to future scientific developments in novel energy sources, sustainable development, new materials, nanotechnology, and conservation of natural resources and new medicines."
Figures from HEFCE show, says the RSC, that funding provided for teaching chemistry, an expensive laboratory-based subject, does not meet the costs incurred.
Also, says the RSC evidence, most university chemistry departments are operating deficits of up to 60% of gross income and precious research funds are used to support teaching.
Despite some reports to the contrary, chemistry is still very much in demand by undergraduates but vice-chancellors have in the past 18 months closed a number of departments at English universities to balance their budgets.
The RSC believes that to help vice-chancellors avoid axing chemistry they need to be offered more money centrally and the society's recent campaign has focused upon persuading the government to make more cash available.
David Giachardi added: "The select committee is examining the provision of science partly because of the storm we kicked up last December when the University of Exeter felt it necessary to shut its chemistry department to avoid a corporate deficit. Their action followed similar cuts at Kings College London, Queen Mary, and Swansea.
"While we and others involved were not able to rescue the Exeter department we can continue the fight this year with a reasoned, constructive argument that makes complete economic sense. Without a flourishing university chemistry base the UK will see its chemical and pharmaceutical industries weaken and atrophy at a time when foreign competitors in the Far East and the USA are getting stronger by the month."
Recently the British Medical Association expressed concern about the closure of chemistry departments, pointing to the need for chemical scientists to develop medicines of the future. David Giachardi added: "If the United Kingdom allows its campus chemical sciences to wither from lack of a proper funding system it will come to regret it very severely and very quickly."
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