Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 92

Correspondence between Mr Michael Lloyd, father of PhD student at the University of Exeter, and the University of Exeter

EMAIL OF 3 JANUARY 2005

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

  I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 2 December. I had hoped that subsequent events would have clarified the position with respect of the options for the students and the rationale for your decision to close Chemistry. However, I was very concerned with the distress shown by my son who just started his PhD last October when he came home this Christmas. Moreover, the email he received just before Christmas from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor was in no way reassuring and added to his distress as it contained no information whatsoever for him about his options.

  I am therefore requesting the following information under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations:

  (1)  Full details of the options for 1st year PhD students, particularly those holding EPSRC studentships as part of a EPSRC grant, to continue at a level equivalent to that they would have enjoyed at Exeter. Please note, I am not asking for any personal data;

  (2)  You refer in your letter of 2 December to a loss of £2 million a year for Chemistry and Biology. I wish for information of the details of accounts for Chemistry, Biology and Physics separately for the University's financial years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. These accounts should contain both the income and expenditure and any internal charging mechanisms, including laboratory space. Moreover, I wish for information of the details to explain the effects of the current and previous RAE and the recent research transparency review;

  (3)  I wish to be informed on how much it costs to teach a biology, chemistry and physics undergraduate;

  (4)  There will be associated costs in closing Chemistry. I wish to be informed of the costs of this;

  (5)  All Chemistry laboratories are subject to varying levels of contamination and clean-up. I wish to be informed of the state of contamination and the associated costs of clean-up to enable the laboratory space to be re-utilised;

  (6)  Your letter refers to the strategic nature of your decision. I wish to be informed as to why you consider Chemistry would not be financially viable as a top research rated department in the next RAE, assuming it would be successful in getting a five or five star rating. In contrast, I wish to be informed as to why you consider the new School of Biosciences to be viable;

  (7)  I wish to be informed why you do not consider Chemistry to be essential for continued success in research in the bio-sciences and medicine, as I understand that research in these areas are very much your strategy (http://www.ex.ac.uk/news/newscouncil.shtml);

  In requesting all this information, I am assuming that the information is readily in electronic format and is readily available as part of the considered decision making over a period of time and will not exceed the £450 cost limit under the Freedom of Information Act. I refer to your evidence of March 2003 to the Select Committee on Education and Skills (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmeduski/425/3061232.htm) as well as the informed decisions of Exeter's Senate and Council.

  I have copied this email to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In making the request for information under legislation, I realise that there are up to 20 working days for you to respond to me.

  This could mean that I would not have information in time to write to that Select Committee by 5pm Friday 28 January. I therefore hope that the Select Committee can themselves pursue some of the above questions.

Yours sincerely
Michael Lloyd

REPLY TO EMAIL OF 3 JANUARY 2005

  31 January 2005

Dear Mr Lloyd,

  Thank you for your e-mail of 3 January 2005 requesting information regarding the closure of the Chemistry department, under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations. Each of the issues raised in your e-mail is answered below, please note that in some instances due to matters not yet finalised the University does not hold the information requested.

Request 1—Full details of the options for 1st year PhD students, particularly those holding EPSRC studentships as part of a EPSRC grant, to continue at a level equivalent to that they would have enjoyed at Exeter

  The options available to first year Chemistry PhD students are being examined urgently by senior staff within the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and University, in consultation with the EPSRC. In broad terms, the options open to the students are:

    (a)  to stay at Exeter with their current supervisor or, subject to discussion and agreement with the student, with a new supervisor; or

    (b)  to move to a new university in the UK with the current supervisor or, subject to discussion and agreement with the student, to a new supervisor.

  The specific options available to each student will depend on the circumstances of each case, in particular the decision with regard to future employment taken by their supervisor, the availability of suitable alternative supervision at Exeter, the wishes and personal circumstances of the particular student, and the nature of the funding, if any, associated with the student and the restrictions, if any, attaching to that funding.

  We will be holding a general meeting with first and second year Chemistry PhD students on 27 January to discuss the options in general terms. Thereafter we will arrange individual meetings with students to discuss their individual circumstances, concerns and preferences. Further individual meetings will be held to discuss specific options, once decisions and choices of individual members of staff become known in February and March.

Request 2i—You refer in your letter of 2 December to a loss of £2 million a year for Chemistry and Biology. I wish for information of the details of accounts for Chemistry, Biology and Physics separately for the University's financial years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. These accounts should contain both the income and expenditure and any internal charging mechanisms, including laboratory space

  Accounting Details for Biology, Chemistry and Physics covering the University's financial years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 (2004-05 is provided separately due to a new Resource Allocation System.)

  The data summarised in Table 1 are extracted from the University's pre-2004 resource allocation planning model. This model was not fully inclusive (as it did not allocate all indirect costs to Schools).

  However, if it is assumed that indirect costs are allocated to Schools on a flat rate basis (for example as a percentage of income receipts), then an approximate estimate of University support can be made. This allocation method is generalised, but does indicate that Chemistry's contributions towards central costs fell short of a "sustainable level" by a significant margin in each of the years reviewed. The table that follows indicates the position for each of the science subjects requested.

Table 1

ANALYSIS OF INCOME AND EXPENDITURE FOR BIOLOGY, CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS—2000-01 TO 2003-04


BUDGET OUTCOMES FOR 2004-05

  The shortcomings in the pre-2004 method of resource allocation and the need to review the sustainability of activities (in line with the requirements of the transparency review), led to the introduction of a method of resource allocation from 2004-05 known as the "Income Distribution Model". The reasons and advantages of the revised approach are summarised below.

    —    The model operates across the University, comprehensively allocating income, direct and indirect costs to Schools (supporting both devolved accountability and the strategic management of University assets and finance);

    —    Transparently reveals the business position of each School indicating clearly whether Schools' are in surplus or deficit and the level of cross-subsidy (providing evidence of the sustainability of University activity);

    —    Provides clear incentives for income generation as Schools retain all income received, £ for £;

    —    Drives costs to Schools based on activity levels (rather than assuming these vary with total income generation). For example, premises costs are based on metered utility usage (as far as possible) and the relative costs of maintaining different categories of space—classroom/seminar, serviced space, etc. Personnel costs are allocated based on staff numbers.

    —    Provides mechanisms for investment through contributions to a Strategic Development Fund;

    —    The model is comparatively simple, stable and objective in its methodology.

  Outcomes of this resource allocation method for each of the Science Schools are indicated in Table 2 (below), together with the basis on which costs are driven down to School level. The new method of resource allocation operated at School level, and therefore income and costs for Biology and Chemistry are aggregated resulting in the number of Academic staff in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences being approximately twice that of the School of Physics. The initial assessment and forecast for the 2004-05 budget revealed an operational deficit of £1.473 million (as above), since then adverse variations have been identified, these related to under-recruitment (£205k), a shortfall in research and other income (£266k) and increased costs (£133k), creating the deficit of £2 million that you refer to in your letter.

Table 2

OUTCOMES OF THE 2004-05 INCOME DISTRIBUTION MODEL FOR BIOLOGY, CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS (JUNE 2004 INITIAL BUDGET POSITION)


Biology and
Chemistry
Physics
How the budget is calculated
£000
£000

Research Income
Funding Council Grant
912.7
969.5
Based on Funding Council methodology
Income from projects etc
951.0
652.0
100% of income generated
Sub Total:
1,863.7
1,621.5
Teaching Income
Fee Income
1,383.2
753.8
100% of earned income
Funding Council Grant
2,728.1
1,145.0
Based on Funding council methodology
Other (mainly relating to short courses)

13.4
(2.9)
100% of earned income
Sub Total:
4,124.7
1,895.9
Other Income
Endowed and Other Funds
25.8
0.0
From School Business Plan
Strategy Fund transfers and loan repayments

(51.0)
0.0
Allocation to meet start up costs—University of Exeter in Cornwall

188.0
0.0
From School Business Plan—Central allocation to support School during initial period
Other
46.8
56.6
Sub Total:
209.6
56.6
Total Income:
6,198.0
3,574.0
Direct Costs
Salaries etc
3,906.3
2,100.3
From School Business Plan
Part-time teaching
41.5
82.0
From School Business Plan
Library
154.8
64.6
From School Business Plan
Equipment
123.0
89.6
From School Business Plan
Consumables
291.6
56.4
From School Business Plan
Travel and Vehicles
22.0
5.1
From School Business Plan
Other—Field Courses, Marketing and Student Recruitment, Scholarships

110.2
50.0
From School Business Plan
Sub Total:
4,649.4
2,448.0
Surplus before Indirect Costs:
1,548.6
1,126.0
Indirect Costs
Space—charge is based on m2 occupied

1,565.4
538.5
Includes utilities costs (representing a proxy based on metered usage); maintenance (reflecting price groups used by the Funding Council which are deemed reflect the differential costs that apply to laboratory and desk/seminar space) and other charges (at a flat rate)
Professional Services (including Finance, Personnel, Payroll, Communication and Partnership, Library, IT, Sports and Student facilities)

1,449.6
685.4
Allocated using drivers that reflect School activity—eg student/staff numbers etc
Strategic Development Fund

232.1
108.2
Contribution calculated by reference to academic and student numbers
Sub Total (Indirect costs)
3,247.1
1,332.1
Surplus/(Deficit) on School Activities
(1,698.5)
(206.1)
Impact of target reductions within Schools and Professional Services set by Planning and Resources Committee to limit overall planned deficits to the working parameter of £1.5 million (pending strategic action subsequently agreed)
225.2
64.9
OperationaL SuRplus/(Deficit) = underlying Trading Position
(1,473.3)
(141.2)


Request 2ii—I wish for information of the details to explain the effects of the current and previous RAE and the recent research transparency review

  Table 2 details the value of funds attributed to the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences based on performance in the 2001 RAE and current activity levels. The approach used replicates the methodology applied by the Higher Education Funding Council, taking account of quality ratings (Biology and Chemistry being rated 4; Physics 5). At present, no detailed guidance on the financial aspects of the RAE 2008 has been received, although the recently issued guidance for panels indicates that quality thresholds will be higher than ever.

  In relation to the transparency review, the new Resource Allocation Model conforms with best practice recommendations that costing and budget models are reviewed and alignment considered. This ensures consistent information is provided to Schools and that informed decisions are taken in relation to the sustainability of activities. The transparency review should result in some additional Research Council income for Chemistry, but this will be insufficient to address the sizeable deficit currently identified.

Request 3—I wish to be informed on how much it costs to teach a biology, chemistry and physics undergraduate

  It is not possible, in a research-led University, to precisely quantify the cost of teaching per undergraduate, as there is a strong interrelationship between teaching and research both academically and in resource allocation/deployment. However, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) classify these three subjects as Price group B, the base price for a full-time undergraduate from the EU in Price group B is £5,922.8. This is not the actual amount that the University receives per student from HEFCE, but is a notional amount that HEFCE believes represents the University's teaching activities. A similar methodology is used to distribute resources within the University's Resource Allocation System.

Request 4—There will be associated costs in closing Chemistry. I wish to be informed of the costs of this

  The University does not yet know the full costs of closing the Chemistry department, since the principal costs will be those related to staff reductions. Negotiations regarding staff reductions are on-going and until these have been finalised the full costs cannot be quantified. Given the financial position of the School the reduction in costs will clearly have a payback within a year or so.

Request 5—All Chemistry laboratories are subject to varying levels of contamination and clean-up. I wish to be informed of the state of contamination and the associated costs of clean-up to enable the laboratory space to be re-utilised

  Staff in Chemistry are very diligent and contamination of surfaces are no greater than would be expected for a typical university chemistry department. The facilities are considered safe to work in. There has been no major chemical spillage.

  The planning of the decommissioning of Chemistry has only just got underway; nothing could be done prior to the Council ratification of the decision on 20 December. An estimate for the normal annual cost for disposal of hazardous substances from Chemistry via licensed contractors is between £5,000 and £10,000.

  It is estimated that it may cost between £15,000 and £25,000 to dispose of hazardous materials no longer required.

  Where possible scientific equipment and chemicals will be reused or recycled, rather than categorised as waste. It is likely that most of the laboratories will continue to be used in scientific work by the new School of Biosciences. In any adaptation or decommissioning of facilities the appropriate areas will be fully decontaminated by specialist contractors, in accordance with current health and safety legislation.

  Following a meeting of the Safety Committee on Thursday 20th January, a Safety plan for the phasing out of Chemistry is being drafted.

Requests 6 and 7

  I wish to be informed as to why you consider Chemistry would not be financially viable as a top research rated department in the next RAE, assuming it would be successful in getting a five or five star rating. In contrast, I wish to be informed as to why you consider the new School of Biosciences to be viable.

  I wish to be informed why you do not consider Chemistry to be essential for continued success in research in the bio-sciences and medicine, as I understand that research in these areas are very much your strategy.

  The financial viability of Chemistry, were it to achieve five or five star rating would not be known until after the 2008 RAE, this is the same for all subjects. In fact, as noted above the quality profile for the next RAE is different (see www.hefce.ac.uk for details).

  The rationale behind focusing on the University's strength and a new School of Biosciences is set out in broad terms in the Imagining the Future paper which was agreed and supported by Council. Further detail behind the decision made by Council can be found in the draft, unconfirmed minute from Council on 20 December 2004.

  This response has been prepared in accordance with a request received under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. In the event that it is regarded as unsatisfactory, the recipient is advised to make representations in the first instance to the University's Data Protection and Freedom of Information Officer.

Dr Philip K. Harvey

Deputy Registrar and Academic Secretary

University of Exeter



 
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