The manager who devised Sussex University's plan to close its chemistry department has admitted that his scheme was "intellectually unviable" and "unworkable".
The admission by Jonathan Bacon, dean of life sciences, came as the university senate granted the department a reprieve by unanimously backing a motion calling for the proposals to be reviewed over the next six weeks.
Professor Bacon told The Times Higher that he had called on senate members to give the university time to rethink the plan after he realised it might be flawed.
He said: "The plan was devised after talking to a limited number of people on campus about how to refocus chemistry to avoid a large anticipated shortfall at the next research assessment exercise.
"When I presented it to my entire school last Wednesday, it received no support. It turns out that while there are mixed messages, the consensus is that the plan is not intellectually viable. So I advised senate that we needed time to think again."
Professor Bacon said that while there was a problem with student recruitment in chemistry, the department had done "some fantastic work" in boosting applications. "We need an integrated solution to preserve chemistry at Sussex. It is an important matter, and we have to get it right."
The university was due to have finalised a timetable and process to review the options for chemistry after The Times Higher went to press. Senate will then decide what course of action to take.
It is expected that senate members will be asked to choose between reinvesting in the discipline, "refocusing" it to create a new chemical biology department or closing it altogether.
Chemistry heads at Sussex who last week condemned the original plans hailed the senate's motion to review the cut as "a great decision for the university".
Alisdair Smith, the vice-chancellor, who came under heavy fire for failing to consult on the proposals before presenting them to senate, denied it was a set-back.
He said: "There is a trade-off between giving plenty of time for open discussions and having a long period of planning blight during which staff and prospective students are unsure what is going to happen. We have decided we do need a longer period, but the decision to keep that as short as possible is the right way to go."
Professor Smith said he was not surprised by the level of attention that the plans had attracted. "The position in relation to chemistry is an important and serious one. I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment from staff and students," he said.
- The Higher Education Funding Council for England has allocated £3.6 million to the Royal Society of Chemistry and £1.8 million to the Institute of Physics to help sustain chemistry and physics.
Steve Egan, acting chief executive of Hefce, said: "We believe that the long-term health of these subjects can best be secured by ensuring that there is increasing demand from people wishing to study them who are well informed about career prospects."