King's to cut life sciences

December 5, 2003

King's College London is to axe much of its life sciences provision, dealing another blow to science at the college.

The THES has discovered that King's intends to reduce life sciences teaching and research in areas including biosciences, environmental sciences, environmental health and microbiology. The department gained a 3a in the 2001 research assessment exercise.

King's is already poised to approve the merger of its chemistry department with University College London. All seven of the remaining staff in the chemistry department are likely to lose their jobs as a result. Both the merger and plans for life sciences will be placed before the university council next Tuesday.

The head of the life sciences department, Jeremy Mason, confirmed that the college had written to students saying it would not be recruiting in these areas for the 2004-05 academic year.

Instead, the department will be expanding its work in areas such as biochemistry. It has pledged to ensure that existing students in the problem areas will not be affected.

Professor Mason told The THES : "Clearly the students are somewhat unsettled. And I have every sympathy with staff in my department. I think, overall, it is unfortunate that King's College is opting to withdraw from areas such as chemistry and biological sciences.

Professor Mason said the department's low RAE score had contributed to the decision. "King's has an intention to be a university that is able to submit more than 90 per cent of its staff in an upper quartile. The consequence is we need to review all departments that got less than 5 in the last RAE," he said.

A statement issued by King's says that while applications to biochemistry remain buoyant, both biological sciences and environmental sciences have seen a significant decline in numbers.

The remaining staff in the chemistry department had been hopeful that the proposed merger with UCL, which would form a new chemical biology institute, would save their jobs.

But one staff member expressed anger that the management had told them they would not be suitably qualified to apply for positions in the new institute. The staff member said that all seven staff would lose their jobs in July 2006 and that everyone had already begun looking to move.

He said: "In my view, the new UCL institute may become 6*, but they are a bunch of 6* parasites."

He said that members of the chemistry department were unhappy that their fate appeared to have been sealed before the council had made a final decision. The college declined to comment.

The academic community greeted news of the college's plans for science with dismay.

Peter Cotgreave, director of campaign group Save British Science, said:

"This isn't a story about a university in the middle of nowhere that has been under-funded for years. King's is a university with an international reputation." He warned that King's was setting a worrying precedent and placed struggling science courses across the country in a dangerous position.

Alan Malcolm, chief executive of the Institute of Biology, said he was frustrated that a low research rating had led to teaching being axed.

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