Poll elicits fear of bioscience slump

November 11, 2005

The biosciences bubble could be about to burst due to staff problems, declining student numbers and underfunded laboratories, a report warns this week.

The Biosciences Federation report, which includes a survey of 38 heads of university biosciences departments, says that despite increased investment in science the sector is seriously threatened by burdensome and unproductive bureaucracy, skewed priorities and a loss of flexibility.

The report will prove tough reading for the Government, which focused attention on ailing physics and chemistry departments, and pitched the biosciences as a success story for the UK.

Mike Withnall, the federation's chief executive officer, said: "We wanted to draw attention to the fact that we need to prevent the biosciences going the same way as physical sciences."

The reports says that poor pay, uncertain career progression, declining academic freedom and increasing teaching and administrative workload are making it harder for university departments to recruit world-class researchers.

"A lot of researchers come from abroad because it is difficult to attract enough excellent people in this country," Dr Withnall said.

Department heads reported that there were too few funding schemes for young researchers, and that competition for these often small pots was "horribly fierce".

The biosciences have not been affected by closures to the same extent as physics and chemistry. But the report says students are shunning core subjects such as biochemistry. It says the unit of resource for teaching is inadequate to cover course costs.

Tom Blundell, professor of biochemistry at Cambridge University and president of the federation, said: "We are heading towards the bizarre situation where if you do structural biology, you will be better resourced if you do it in a chemistry department."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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