Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Helen Ayers, Biochemistry Student, Brunel University

  I am currently a student in the last year of a four year BSc (Hons) Medical Biochemistry degree at Brunel University. I am submitting this letter as evidence for your enquiry into the strategic science provision in English universities.

  My course was originally run in the department of Biological Sciences and the HEFCE's formulae has led to being merged with Nursing and Social Care departments to become the School of Health Sciences and Social Care. The eventual aim of the new school is to teach similar modules (eg physiology) to students across the school. This worries bioscience students as the approach required for the subject content will be very different from that of students studying nursing. As bioscience students are a minority in the new school there is already the opinion that the teaching needs of courses with more students (eg nursing) will be put before those of bioscience students in modules with shared content.

  Brunel University is currently in the process of making 60 staff redundancies based on the volume of research undertaken, frequency of publication and revenue generated. The university recently released a list and sent out letters on the voluntary redundancies and only three out of approximately 20 bioscience lectures have not been asked to volunteer for redundancy. If enough lectures fail to volunteer for redundancy, there are going to be compulsory redundancies. It is obvious that this will have a significant influence over the bioscience teaching ability of the school. In its defence the University says that the 60 lecturers made redundant will be replaced by 90 research active staff. However, the University holds the opinion that this will not have an affect on the quality of teaching, although these new staff will have less time to teach (and prepare for teaching) because of their research. The University also does not want to commit to replacing staff from the same areas they will be lost from. This will have a huge effect on bioscience if they lose a significant proportion of staff by causing a teaching staff shortage.

  Another concern is that the teaching ability of the replacement staff may not be as high as that of the current teaching staff, since they are researchers not lecturers. It is vital that the teaching received throughout science degrees reaches a high level of quality as this is the foundation of principles essential for the continued learning required throughout a scientific career.

  The University is also unwilling to commit to keeping the bioscience courses running in the long term and are only willing to say they will complete their contractual obligation to enrolled students allowing them to complete their degree. They also have stopped bioscience students extending their course by a year by blocking the integration of industrial placements into all the Bioscience courses, but no other courses across the university. This will have a direct effect on the ability of bioscience students to perform once they reach the workplace as they will require a higher level of training.

  If the Bioscience courses at Brunel were to close I do not believe it would have much effect on the regional capacity as there are many other universities offering similar courses in central London, however there are few universities offering these courses on the outskirts of London and this may deter potential science students. Unfortunately I do not have any suggestions on how to maintain the science provision in English universities but it is obvious something needs to be done before too many departments close down as Universities are unlikely to invest in setting up new science departments due to the high set up and running costs, which may not provide a quick return or increase revenue.

January 2005

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 April 2005