'Savage' cash cuts put bioscience jobs at risk

October 10, 2003

The £17 million cut to bioscience teaching funding is disastrous and risks the closure of several departments, academics and science bodies warned this week.

Under the Higher Education Funding Council for England's new formula for funding teaching, all life sciences are being placed in a lower band than "hard" sciences such as chemistry. Subjects including geology and psychology also spoke out against cuts to their funding.

Alan Malcolm, chief executive of the Institute of Biology, has written to science minister Lord Sainsbury saying that, if the biotechnology industry is to prosper, Hefce must not be allowed to introduce such "savage" cuts.

He told The THES : "This (cut) should ensure that, within a decade, the subjects needed to fuel the great push into biotechnology will follow the other molecular sciences down the same slippery path to insolvency."

A head of a biosciences department, who asked not to be named, said: "A 7.4 per cent cut in the Hefce teaching grant would be £160,000. Given that the university is already seriously in deficit, this would mean sacking three lecturers or abandoning most practical teaching."

The IoB and the new Biosciences Federation are angry that Hefce took into account the age of teachers in calculating the funding formula. They say this punishes the life sciences for being a youthful, developing sector.

Heads of geology departments warned that their subject would be threatened.

Geology also had its funding band reclassified, which meant a 7.4 per cent cut.

The Geological Society said Hefce failed to acknowledge the amount of costly fieldwork geology departments had to do.

Richard Aldridge, head of the geology department at Leicester University, said: "There have already been closures in the earth sciences. This cut will make us look more expensive and there is a worry we will come under closer scrutiny (from vice-chancellors)."

Meanwhile, psychology departments have estimated they will lose £600 per student as a result of the new formula.

The chair of the Association of the Heads of Psychology Departments, Angus Gellatly, said: "It's hard to see how reducing funding to the second most popular subject in terms of student applications will promote the government goal of 50 per cent access to higher education."

But a Hefce spokesperson insisted that teaching funding would still be awarded as a block grant and that institutions could choose how to distribute it.

"What we are talking about is a cake that has a fixed size and we are slicing it differently," he said.

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