Axe now hangs over chemistry at Kent

April 25, 2003

The chemistry degree programme at the University of Kent at Canterbury is the latest to face closure.

This follows the news two weeks ago that King's College London may shut its acclaimed chemistry department.

Sources in the Kent chemistry department said a decision had been made to discontinue the chemistry degree programme, and to concentrate on the more popular forensic science programme instead.

One source said: "The forensic programme was designed as a trick to keep chemistry afloat and it has pushed it out."

Some members of the department felt the move had been prompted by the possible closures at King's.

No official statement has yet been made and the university was unable to comment this week but some members are already looking for other jobs.

The Royal Society of Chemistry stepped up its lobbying of the government, warning that these possible closures were a "wake-up call" for chemistry.

RSC chief executive David Giachardi said: "What we are seeing is a fairly crude culling, which started with King's College. We are trying to persuade the authorities to draw a line in the sand."

Dr Giachardi argued that cuts in funding for departments that received lower ratings in the research assessment exercise were largely to blame for the problems chemistry was facing.

"It's a way of crucifying some potentially very good departments," he said.

He was particularly concerned that vice-chancellors who were under pressure to balance the books and raise student numbers would back the cheaper subjects that were easier to fill.

Dr Giachardi said: "We have a real concern about chemistry being pushed out. The funding agencies have employed a very mechanistic formula based on the RAE, and that's a crude tool."

The RSC is encouraging chemistry departments to broaden their portfolios and consider merging with others in order to survive.

But Dr Giachardi was critical of the emergence of popular new subjects such as forensic science.

He said: "Students are beguiled by what they see on television. They see forensic science as glamorous. The reality is there are very few jobs for people reading a discipline like that."

The Association of University Teachers is continuing to lobby King's to keep its chemistry department open.

The matter is officially subject to review, but the union said: "The worry is that the decision has already been taken."

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