RSC chief executive warns over Exeter stance
15 June 2006
The Independent newspaper has published a letter from RSC chief executive Richard Pike in which he questions views expressed by the vice-chancellor of Exeter University which last summer abandoned its chemistry department to save money.
Dr Pike's letter follows publication of a story in which Steve Smith of Exeter looked back with satisfaction on the outcome of the 2005 battle for chemistry at his university, which the RSC initiated after hearing word of his plan to axe the department.
The media campaign over Exeter chemistry was played out in public, leading to questions in the Commons and a national debate over funding of university science. Although the closure still went ahead the campaign succeeded in drawing some vital lines in the sand.
However, Sussex University crossed the line in March this year and again the RSC stepped in and another national storm broke over the head of the vice-chancellor whose actions drew immense public criticism and a House of Commons emergency enquiry.
This time the weight of public and professional opinion caused the university to rethink and finally to withdraw its chemistry closure plans and a new department of chemistry and biochemistry is now being formed at Brighton.
The RSC does not campaign against university vice-chancellors; instead it strives to persuade the Government that it must invest more money in universities to prevent vice-chancellors taking the - apparently simple - option of axing science courses which are more expensive to maintain that arts, business and humanities programmes.
The text of the letter is reproduced below.
The University of Exeter, for financial reasons, threw chemistry overboard last summer despite encountering bitter opposition. That the vice-chancellor looks back now with satisfaction, having steered his tough decision through choppy waters, is deeply worrying for those who value the future health and wealth of the UK.
The Exeter decision was a microcosm of a new form of short-term, finance-based academic planning executed without regard for the strategic needs of Britain. The country must have a strong domestic chemistry base in our universities, backed by good university funding by the Government, a case that the Royal Society of Chemistry has been making for the past two years.
Without adequate funding our campus chemistry community is threatened and it is likely that multi-national companies will look overseas for their qualified chemical scientists. They will also move their research centres abroad with highly damaging financial consequences for many parts of Britain.
Such radical shifts can only damage the UK's economic vitality. Without a more enlightened approach emerging very soon we shall rapidly suffer the consequences, including declining employment at the leading edge of technology.
Additionally we shall witness endangered provision of pensions which are closely dependent upon the performance of our corporate sector which, in the absence of a thriving domestic chemistry community, would certainly lose much of its potency and profitability.
Dr Richard Pike
Royal Society of Chemistry
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