Mass exodus leaves King's chemistry department facing axe

August 8, 2003

Employees of King's College London's respected chemistry department agreed this week that closure was inevitable following a mass exodus of staff and students.

The department has been running for more than 170 years. But King's confirmed in April that it was reviewing the future of chemistry there, due to the department's "unsustainable" deficit.

Although the review is still ongoing, 13 of the 22 members of staff have now resigned and more are planning to take early retirement. In mid-July the department was forced to withdraw offers made to 45 undergraduates who were due to join the department in autumn because there were no longer enough staff to teach them.

A member of the department, who has asked not to be named, said: "The main feeling here is confusion. The whole thing is hideous. The working atmosphere has been appalling for years because for some reason there is hostility to chemistry in the university."

The college wrote to existing second, third and fourth-year chemistry students a fortnight ago reassuring them that it was committed to offering them a top-quality education. But University College London has confirmed that a number of these students have arranged to move there to complete their courses.

Graeme Hogarth, the admissions tutor for chemistry at UCL, said: "Many feel their department is going down the pan and they need to get out. One of the problems is to come here they need a high level of achievement. I've no idea what will happen to the students lower down the list."

According to documents seen by The THES , the chemistry department is running at an annual deficit of between £1.5 million and £2 million. It requested an additional £400,000 a year to reach the target of a 5-rating in the next research assessment exercise but the college has stated that it cannot underwrite the department and support such a deficit.

The news of possible closure has been met with opposition from many quarters. At a King's academic board meeting in May academics from other departments protested that it was usual for a chemistry department to be running at a deficit.

One THES source, who has now left the chemistry department, said: "Any institution that counts itself as a leading university has to have a core subject like chemistry."

Dr Hogarth said: "London should have more choice in chemistry. And King's had an excellent department."

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