Faculty blooms after near-death

June 30, 2006

Anna Fazackerley takes the temperature at a troubled south-coast university

Weeks after narrowly escaping the axe, the chemistry department at Sussex University is set to double its student numbers, The Times Higher can reveal.

Alasdair Smith, vice-chancellor of Sussex, caused an international outcry when he confirmed that he was planning to close his 5-rated chemistry department in March. At the time he explained that the unpopular move was driven by years of struggling to recruit students, as well as the loss of key staff.

But this week the chemistry department - which has won a reprieve - revealed that student recruitment was at such a high that it was pushing ahead with plans to double its intake over the next three years.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England encouraged the department to apply for additional funding to ramp up student recruitment in May.

If the bid is successful, the department, which has already doubled its intake over the past four years, will have 30 extra places next year and 15 new places for each of the two years after that.

Gerry Lawless, head of the chemistry department, said: "We've gone from being axed to hopefully becoming 50 per cent bigger in three years. This proves it was sensible to keep chemistry."

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "In the case of Sussex, we always said it was a high-quality department. It was the management of finances that led to problems. This is very, very good news."

Professor Smith cited insufficient student numbers in chemistry when he was called in front of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee in March.

He said: "It is very difficult to justify the kind of investment that would be required to restore the department... on the back of the kind of student recruitment that we have had in the past three or four years."

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