Kroto protests cutbacks

January 26, 2001

Nobel prizewinner Sir Harry Kroto has handed back an honorary degree from the University of Hertfordshire in protest against cuts in its chemistry department.

"The recent plans to reduce the amount of chemistry taught at Hertfordshire below the threshold of viability have forced me to reconsider the honour and, regrettably, after communications with the vice-chancellor, I feel that I must return my degree," said Sir Harry, Royal Society research professor at the University of Sussex.

The chemistry department at Hertfordshire recommended that Sir Harry be awarded the doctor of science degree in 1997. But since then, the university has announced cuts in the department to save money.

"I felt I had to take a stand," Sir Harry said. "Maybe that is the value of an honorary degree to society."

Sir Harry said he was saddened by the university cuts. "Going into the 21st century, universities must recognise that chemistry is a core subject. These are difficult times for the sciences, but it is up to the universities to find ways of helping graduates go into the world with an understanding of science."

He said there was poor awareness of the importance of science among graduates. A major commitment to chemistry was vital, he said, as genetics research and small-scale electronics are high on the research agenda.

In a statement, Hertfordshire said: "The university regrets that Professor Kroto has taken this step. There was a detailed exchange of correspondence between Professor Kroto and the vice-chancellor, but, in the event, the restructuring exercise was deemed necessary in the best interests of the institution."

Last year, the university announced cuts in the departments of chemistry, social sciences, performing arts and civil engineering to prevent a predicted £2.6 million deficit. The last intake of chemistry students was in October 2000, but the university said a substantial element of chemistry would be taught within a revised BSc in pharmaceutical science, adding that this was consistent with market requirements.

Sir Harry holds 15 other honorary degrees from universities around the world, including Stockholm, Helsinki and Yokohama City. In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry for the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, football-shaped molecules also known as buckyballs.

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