Chemical scores are giving some a headache

January 24, 1997

Physics and chemistry are in trouble. Physicists blame falling student numbers and cuts, while chemists finger the research assessment exercise

the future of chemistry is in the balance at two universities at least following low scores in the research assessment exercise.

An RAE 2, on top of undergraduate recruitment difficulties, means Essex University will halt admissions to pure chemistry degrees from September.

Brunel University, which also scored 2 in chemistry, has confirmed it is looking at the future of its chemistry research.

A spokesman for Essex University, where all subjects except chemistry scored above 2, said: "The number of people applying for chemistry courses is moving in the wrong direction. We believe the strengths of the department are on the biological chemistry side, not on the side of pure chemistry. Certainly the RAE played a part in our decision."

He added that pure chemistry students will be able to complete their degrees, and no compulsory redundancies are expected.

An agreement with the University of East Anglia will allow students offered places on pure chemistry courses at Essex to have them honoured by UEA.

A spokesman for Brunel University said: "The university is disappointed with the results of the RAE for chemistry. It is clear that there is a strong correlation between size of department and rating."

"One way of improving the research rating is to expand the department, but because national demand for this subject is low we are unlikely to expand the chemistry department. The university will be exploring ways to amalgamate some activities within science into larger units," he added.

Tony Ashmore, registrar of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said he did not believe there had been a decrease in the number of chemistry students, but expansion had been not nearly as fast as in other subjects.

"There are huge financial pressures on the system," he said. "It's inevitable that some universities are considering whether they can afford to support high-tech subjects when they have small departments and small incomes."

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