Rammell defends hands-off science tack

July 28, 2006

The Government set itself on a collision course with MPs this week as it rejected key parts of a report on science provision in English universities.

Responding to the Commons Science and Technology Committee's May report, which says that the Government has "no effective lever" to stop universities closing science departments, the Government insisted that institutions should be free to decide for themselves.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "We are not complacent, but the recent data are encouraging, with the national demand for and supply of courses in many science-based strategic subjects improving, with student numbers rising faster than the national average."

But Phil Willis, the committee chair, said he was "enormously disappointed"

with the Government's response. "There is a desperate need for more science students. This committee fully respects the autonomy of universities, but wants to see the Government take a more proactive stance."

Mr Willis wants universities to notify the Higher Education Funding Council for England of problems in science departments far sooner and give the funding council more powers to intervene.

The May report was highly critical of plans by Sussex University to close its chemistry department.

"We are obviously relieved that we stopped that closure," Mr Willis said, "but plan to return to this subject on an annual basis." He said that the committee would be meeting with Hefce and Mr Rammell early in the autumn to discuss science in universities.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "The Government and funding council have yet to acknowledge that laboratory-based science subjects are underfunded. This will become increasingly evident as accounting in universities becomes more transparent and the extent to which other departments cross-subsidise the sciences becomes clear. If this cross-subsidy is withdrawn, many departments may well be in trouble."

The joint Government-Hefce response said that robust data from the funding framework would not be available until 2008.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns