Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)


  The pharmaceutical sector is the leading industrial funder of the research base in the UK. The industry provides the third highest trade surplus of all sectors with a trade balance of £3.6 billion in 2003[22]. The industry employed 83,000 direct employees in the UK in 2002, GDP per employee being £80,843[23].

  The pharmaceutical industry welcomes this inquiry and the opportunity it provides to highlight the importance of strategic disciplines to an industry which, in 2003 invested nearly £9 million per day (£3.2 billion per annum) in research and development (R&D) in the UK, equating to a quarter of UK industrial R&D funding. This figure is substantially greater than pharmaceutical company investments in any other European country.

  The pharmaceutical sector is also a significant supporter of academic research, hosting nearly 700 PhD students in laboratories and funding over 400 separate collaborative research projects. This equates to funding over £70 million on collaborative research (excluding contract and clinical research) and provides access to new compounds, technologies and resources that students and universities would not otherwise have.

  The chemical and biological sciences are core disciplines in drug discovery and development. Research based pharmaceutical companies have major facilities in the UK in order to interact with the excellent academic research base and to recruit well trained graduates, postgraduates and post docs from its Higher Education Institutions.

  Four factors are critical to the success of the UK in retaining R&D investment: access to skills and knowledge; a good regulatory climate; competitive cost base for collaborative research and a market that supports innovation. Unless the UK is able to sustain and improve the environment in relation to these four issues it is difficult to see how the Government vision of a science and innovation-led economy can be realised.

  This inquiry is timely for implementation of the Government's 10 year Science and Innovation Investment Framework and the continuing news of closure of university chemistry departments.


    —  ABPI members are finding it increasingly difficult to source certain types of graduates and skills within the UK—especially those individuals with good quality chemistry degrees and in vivo pharmacologists.

    —  The industry seeks to employ graduates who have received high quality teaching, have had the opportunity to develop excellent practical skills and have studied a single subject in depth, rather than taken a science course in which the science has been diluted by study of other subjects.

    —  University science departments which have been rated 5 or 5* for the quality of their research do not always produce high numbers of graduates who wish to pursue a career in science. Industry is most likely to value the skills and knowledge developed during a four year MChem/MSci "sandwich" course.

    —  Supply of clinical pharmacologists is also a major concern as they have a unique role to play in the safety and efficacy testing of medicines.

    —  The Government and HEFCE should act now to prevent the current random closure of good departments by Vice Chancellors.

    —  Government must ensure that high quality teaching for undergraduate science degrees is maintained and should seek ways of encouraging students to take science degree courses, especially in chemistry, physics and mathematics. A pool of quality science talent should be created not just to enter industry, but to sustain academe and provide the science teachers who can encourage pupils to pursue science in Higher Education.

  The Committee has invited evidence to be given on the following points:

The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae, as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial viability of university science departments

  The research funding formula was intended to support and reward high quality research by directing funding to leading departments to enable them to strive towards world class research status. However inadequate funding of science teaching in universities has resulted in departments subsidising their teaching from this funding. Changes in the allocation of funds based on Research Assessment ratings since the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), has resulted in nationally excellent research departments (rated 4) losing significant funding. It appears that in some instances this has led to Vice Chancellors deciding to close departments, even in institutions with a high level of demand for its undergraduate chemistry course from well qualified applicants, and a record of providing high quality undergraduate teaching. It is possible that all science departments with scores below 5, and which require expensive laboratory facilities, may be vulnerable to closure in an uncoordinated fashion as Vice Chancellors struggle to meet financial targets.

  Closure of chemistry departments will, of course, affect other departments within a university. We share the concerns of the Bioscience Federation that, since physical sciences underpin much bioscience research, any loss of departments of physics and chemistry would threaten the current excellence of UK bioscience research. Some universities appear to be planning to increase their commitment to biosciences and medicine, at the same time as closing chemistry departments; this appears a bizarre decision considering that bioscience and organic chemistry are intrinsically linked.

  We agree that the status quo is probably not viable, or desirable, if universities are to support well equipped departments with high calibre research and teaching staff. We do not believe that the random decisions being made to close departments, which result in large areas of the country with no high quality chemistry department, for instance, is a satisfactory solution.

  Those universities rated highly for research do not all produce high numbers of graduates who wish to follow a career as practising scientists. A number of lower rated departments, however, through provision of courses which include an industrial placement, encourage students to pursue a career where they will use their degree in a research or manufacturing environment.

  Many of our member companies provide opportunities for students to spend their Industrial Placement (IP) year in their laboratories. In recent years 11 chemistry undergraduates from Exeter have spent their IP with one large pharmaceutical company, the second highest number from a single university. A number of these students have become full time employees. Other pharmaceutical companies have also commented on the high quality of IP students from Exeter.

The desirability of increasing the concentration of research in a small number of university departments, and the consequences of such a trend

  Many areas of scientific research require access to state of the art equipment and facilities. It would not be feasible for all universities to invest in the infrastructure required to support research at the highest level, hence a method for ensuring that top departments remain world class is required. However the rationalisation of top quality research provision needs to be better managed and co-ordinated. We do not believe that the current RAE process is the best method for doing this.

  Despite substantial consultation on the conduct of the RAE, the ABPI has concerns that the programme proposed for 2008 will not fully recognise collaborative and cross-discipline work, and hence may understate the importance of applied research, particularly that done in collaboration with industry.

  Pharmaceutical companies fund substantial programmes of collaborative work with UK universities. In deciding where to set up collaborations, companies identify those departments with top quality facilities and research expertise. A recent survey of its members by ABPI has revealed that there are at least 8 university departments rated less than 5 where more than one company funds collaborative work, with many more being supported by one company[24]. Reasons for funding these collaborations include high quality teaching, the department being a centre of excellence nationally or internationally in a specific area, an academic group with a strong focus on a relevant research area, and good links with innovative start-up companies.

  The solution would be to focus on excellence not just at institution level, but also recognised high quality research teams that may be embedded in otherwise non-research intensive departments.

The implications for university science teaching of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the teaching funding formula

  Over the last five years pharmaceutical companies have increasingly raised the supply of students as an issue of concern. The concerns are not simply with whether they have good qualifications or not, rather it is with their practical skills and depth of knowledge.

  While difficult to quantify, the consistent and regular anecdotal evidence is that quality of graduates is deteriorating from all but the leading universities. Indeed this decline is highlighted by UK R&D facilities taking an increasing number of students for sandwich courses and industrial placements from universities in mainland Europe. Such a trend is not necessarily negative, improving inflow of new ideas and people, yet it reduces the recruitment from UK courses.

  The decline in science graduates can only accelerate in the future, following a decision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to reduce the qualifier for laboratory-based courses from its previous level of 2 to 1.7 (Table 1). While the unit cost for student courses was increased by 20%; because of the drop in funding qualifier, this meant an increase of only 2% for laboratory based courses. It is therefore difficult for universities to justify further investment in expensive laboratory based courses, or indeed refurbishment of existing facilities, rather than expand lecture-based courses to meet Government expansion demands.

  Of particular concern is the supply of chemists and, of specific interest to the industry, in vivo pharmacologists. Although numbers following biological degrees have held up well, the relevance of the training has not. There are very few universities providing in vivo skills training at undergraduate/postgraduate level. A major factor is the costs of running such courses which the funding formula does not currently recognise. The few courses still running remain just about viable because of contributions from the British Pharmacological Society supported by industry.

  For chemists, despite the expansion of Higher Education intake, we have seen a reduction in chemistry graduates from 4,110 in 1994-05 to 3,215 in 2001-02 (table 2). Nearly all the increase in degrees of relevance to the industry have been in medicine and allied disciplines—the supply of physical science graduates has largely stagnated (Figure 1).

Table 1:


Old funding
Proposed funding

Price group
Funding unit (£)
Funding unit (£) % rise in
Clinical studies
Laboratory courses
Intermediate cost subjects
Lecture-based courses

Figure 1:  Number of people graduating with first degrees relevant to the pharmaceutical industry in the UK (taken from Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force: competitiveness and performance indicators 2003)

  Source: HESA Student Record 1994-95 and 1999-2000 to 2002-03

  From 2002-03, HESA moved over to a new method of apportioning students to subjects and uses a new subject coding system (JACS). This means that data for 2002-03 is not strictly comparable with earlier years.

Table 2:




  The decline in chemistry graduates is of particular concern as this reduces the pool of talent from which industry can draw, and reduces the number that might progress to a teaching career.

  Despite the continued relatively high funding for medical science it has been reported that a 36% reduction in lecturer posts has taken place in medical schools since 2000. As a result it is likely that certain aspects of medicine will no longer be taught in all medical schools putting patient care at risk[25].

  New medicines only reach the market if their safety and efficacy has been proven through clinical testing. Clinical pharmacologists are essential members of the team which investigates safety in man in early stage trials. In recent years teaching in clinical pharmacology as part of a medical degree has reduced as this speciality has become less important to the NHS, and those undertaking training in clinical pharmacology tend to do this in order to become a specialist in an area such as oncology or infectious diseases. Hence the supply of clinical pharmacologists for the pharmaceutical industry and contract research organisations is not being met.

  The pharmaceutical industry has for a number of years provided substantial financial support for a programme for specialist training of registrars in academia and encouraging industry/academic links. This programme has had some success in meeting the needs of the pharmaceutical industry.

  The human genome project has an enormous potential to improve human health and quality of life. The development of new treatments based on genomic discoveries will require many in vivo (whole animal) studies to understand the function of novel genes and to discover and develop new drugs that interact with them. The pharmaceutical industry is very concerned that integrative in vivo expertise is rapidly being lost from the academic sector and is taking a lead in generating the in vivo pharmacologists of tomorrow. The three largest R&D investors in the UK—AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer—will be providing funds of over £1 million per annum, with other companies joining. The objective of the initiative is:

    —  to enhance the academic research and training base for in vivo pharmacology, physiology and toxicology so industry has:

    —  a pool of well trained scientists to recruit from; and

    —  a vibrant research base to collaborate with.

  For this programme to result in long term success additional funding will be necessary. A significant increase in funding for integrative systems and organism biology is now needed to allow the potential of the human genome project to be realised and we look to Government to provide this increased funding via the Research Councils.

  It is vital that the UK Funding Councils sustain graduate science courses—if we are to develop the life science and physical science PhDs of tomorrow we need a quality supply of first degree science graduates.


  The number of teachers employed to teach a single science subject has more than halved since 1984, the vast majority of science teachers are expected to teach all three subjects as part of a "combined" science course, often up to GCSE level.

  For chemistry, the number of teachers who have a degree in the subject has also decreased, from 6,490 in 1984 to 3,744 in 2002. On the assumption that there should be a balance of expertise in science teaching at GCSE (Key Stage 4), it was calculated that, in 2002, approximately 8,350 chemistry teachers were required to cover teaching at GCSE and A level, whereas only 4,680 teachers in maintained schools had a degree, PGCE or BEd in chemistry. The estimated shortfall of 3,670 teachers must mean that large numbers of students are being taught chemistry by teachers without a qualification in the subject[26].

  Science teachers, particularly those teaching chemistry and physics, tend to be older than their counterparts in other subjects. Only 16% of chemistry teachers, and 17% of physics teachers, are under 30, compared with 23% for non science subjects. In contrast 30% of chemistry teachers, and 29% of physics teachers, are over 50, indicating a potential shortage in teachers of these subjects in the next 10 years.

  The dearth of chemistry and physics teachers and the aging cohort remaining in schools will inevitably lead to a further decline in the number of pupils progressing from 16-19 education into physical science courses at university.

The optimal balance between teaching and research provision in universities, giving particular consideration to the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science departments

  The current model of a university as an institution which strives to carry out world class research and high quality undergraduate teaching in all departments is unsustainable and unrealistic. As participation in Higher Education is widened towards the target of 50%, it is inevitable a large number of students will embark on Higher Education courses without having appropriate study skills and self motivation to complete the course. Currently all universities market themselves on the same model, the needs of students would be better met if institutions were to become distinctive in their methods and in the opportunities they provide.

  The ABPI would welcome the establishment of teaching only departments in all regions to satisfy local needs. These should work closely with RDAs and be well resourced and assessed on the quality of teaching they provide. High quality teaching and research departments are clearly also needed to provide well educated science graduates and PhDs to meet the needs of academic and industrial sectors.

The importance of maintaining a regional capacity in university science teaching and research

  Applications from UK students to study chemistry have been declining steadily over the last 10 years. In 1993 4,110 applications were made to study chemistry as a single subject, this had fallen to 2,434 by 2003[27]. Indications are that there was a slight increase in applications for 2004, but numbers are not yet available. As a percentage of students applying for HE courses, the percentage has fallen from 1.7% in 1994 to 0.68% in 2003.[28]

  In the past 18 months Kings College and Queen Mary in London, Swansea, Exeter and Anglia Polytechnic University have announced closure of their chemistry departments. Others are known to be contemplating closure. In addition De Montford University, Leicester took their last intake of students in 2002 and Kent in 2003.

  For chemistry research and development the pharmaceutical industry generally recruits first degree graduates who have completed an MChem or MSci in the Chemical Sciences. In 2002 there were 1,150 graduates from these courses[29]. Geographical distribution of these courses is not uniform. In 2003, whereas 10 universities in the Midlands offered MChem/MSci courses in chemical sciences, in Eastern Counties and the South, only 2 did[30]. With the recently announced closure of Swansea's department of chemistry, Wales will also only have two institutions offering these courses.

  The lack of regional provision for science teaching in Higher Education has two major effects. Firstly, those students who do not wish to live away from home have a reduced selection of courses to study and, secondly, industry hoping to provide degree level training for employees may not be able to do so. The introduction of tuition fees for students and the anticipated increase in charges once variable fees are introduced has prompted some pharmaceutical companies to take on students with A levels or non-traditional post-16 qualifications with the aim of supporting them to attain higher qualifications through part time study. At one member company, where this scheme has been running for four4 years in both biology and chemistry departments, the employees study biology at the University of Brighton and chemistry at Greenwich. In other parts of the country such an arrangement would not be possible as the travelling times involved would be too great. The biology students have the opportunity to train in in vivo pharmacology as part of this course.

  A policy is required, driven by Government and by HEFCE that will lead to co-operation between universities to ensure that regional needs are met within a framework of national provision for subjects of strategic importance.

The extent to which the Government should intervene to ensure continuing provision of subjects of strategic national or regional importance; and the mechanisms it should use for this purpose

  It is very important that the Government intervenes to ensure that subjects of strategic scientific importance are supported.

  The life sciences are clearly an area of strength that must be developed. But to sustain UK investment by pharmaceutical companies, there must also be excellence in chemistry and a supply of quality graduates.

  Our concerns for the UK science base are:

    —  dwindling supply of scientists, especially chemists;

    —  lack of investment in science teaching infrastructure owing to pressures of expansion of HE and the recent reduction in funding qualifier for laboratory-based courses; and

    —  loss of capability in animal research owing to underfunding, over-regulation and the threat of animal extremists.

  Pharmaceutical R&D is a long term strategic investment. The major pharmaceutical companies are global and have plenty of options as to which countries to invest in. Confidence in the UK continuing to have a world-class, diverse talent pool is a prerequisite for such long term investment in the UK and chemists are a key part of this scientific talent pool. Conversely, uncertainty about the future talent pool will undermine such strategic investment.

  Pharmaceutical companies can also choose where to recruit from. The enlarged EU provides an opportunity to increase the available talent pool for recruitment and will make it a more competitive environment for UK trained scientists.

  To achieve the aims set out above it is essential that Government provides incentives to universities to increase in supply of science graduates, particularly chemistry graduates. They are vital both for the sustainability of the industry and that of other professions such as teaching.

  A national strategy for key subjects must replace the current situation where local university finance determines the future of education.

January 2005

22   HM Customs and Excise. Back

23   Annual Business Inquiry, Office for National Statistics. Back

24   ABPI Survey of member company collaborations with UK Higher Education Institutions, unpublished data, December 2004. Back

25   Professor Michael Rees, Head of BMA's Academic Committee, reported in The Times, 20.1.2005. Back

26   "Chemistry teachers" Smithers and Robinson, March 2004. Back

27   Digest of statistics of chemistry Education 2004, Royal Society of Chemistry. Source Universities and Colleges Admissions Service Back

28   Digest of statistics of chemistry Education 2004, Royal Society of Chemistry. Source Higher Education Statistics Agency Back

29   Source HECC (74 institutions). Reported in "University chemical sciences provision" Royal Society of Chemistry November 2003 Back

30   "University chemical sciences provision" Royal Society of Chemistry November 2003 Back

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