Memorandum from the Royal Society of Chemistry
UK chemical science provision is
at a critical point in its history.
Chemistry and its practical applications
are the key to understanding the natural world and to economic
and social development, health care and environmental improvement.
Chemistry is also the key to future
scientific developments in areas such as novel energy sources,
new materials, nanotechnology, conservation of natural resources
and new medicines.
Industries based on the application
of chemistry make a huge contribution to national wealth of over
£5 billion/year to the balance of payments, £5 billion/year
to taxation and provide over 250,000 highly skilled jobs in the
high technology sectors of the economy.
The current numbers applying to study
chemical science courses in universities are around the long-term
average of 3,000/year and reflect the continuing popularity of
Inadequate support for teaching chemistry
has led to the cost-driven closure of a number of University Chemistry
Departments without regard for regional and national needs.
If allowed to continue the national
and local infrastructure will be irretrievably damaged due to
short-term, cash-flow driven decisions forced upon many Vice-Chancellors
to focus on low cost subjects.
A clear national and regional strategy
for research and education in chemistry is essential for the success
of the Government's 10-year Investment Strategy for Science and
Innovation. the development of new businesses and employment,
and the sustenance of our industrial base.
The current funding formula applied
by HEFCE is at the heart of the problem.
Figures from HEFCE show that funding
provided for teaching chemistry, an expensive laboratory based
does not meet the costs incurred.
The QR funding for a moderately sized
chemistry department rated 5* would be over £1 million higher
than a department rated 4yet teaching is required in both
Preliminary data from an RSC study
into the costs of chemistry departments indicate that the majority
are operating at substantial deficits of up to 60% of gross income.
Precious research funds are being used to subsidise teaching.
We support the Government's "Access
Agenda" to increase participation in Higher Education.
Science and engineering are a key
part of providing the diversity of subject provision that responds
to student choice and employer needs.
Without course provision in centres
of international and national excellence distributed geographically
to provide access to students, many potential entrants to HE will
be denied places or be forced to study courses which are neither
their first choice nor area of talent.
The RSC supports the Government in
striving towards a high added-value economy with the well paid
jobs that this will bring.
The value to the individual of completing
a degree is £129,000 more that non-graduates with similar
backgrounds which translates into a 12.1% annual rate of return
over a life-time of earnings. The rate of return for chemistry
graduates is 25% higher.
It follows that fully funding science
courses will lead to considerable additional returns to the state
and the individual. Considering only the short-term cash costs
neglects the long-term cash and other economic gains for the Government
Well-informed sources have told the
RSC to expect further closures of science departments even before
HEFCE gives its advice to the Secretary of State on the need to
support strategic subjects in 2006. A broader-based HEFCE review
of the funding of teaching will not be available before 2008.
Long-term regional and national damage to our chemistry infrastructure,
the appearance of regional "chemistry deserts", will
result during this time if nothing is done immediately.
The RSC is willing to work with Government
to develop a considered and structured national and regional approach
In the next three years £300
million is needed to preserve our current science infrastructure.
Action is needed now. We cannot afford
Chemistry is a premier intellectual pursuit that
makes a distinctive contribution to knowledge and to culture.
It is also a key strategic subject in UK universities.
Chemistry is the key to understanding the natural
world and a key to economic and social development, health care
and environmental improvement. Through a study of chemistry we
are educating the leading citizens of tomorrow as well as providing
the skills for a subset of them to become future practitioners.
Chemistry stands on its own merit in the university
curriculum, and underpins many other science disciplines, as well
as being vital to the country.
A high quality education in chemistry may be
expensive relative to some other disciplines, but the economic
returns from chemistry graduates more than exceeds the increased
cost to the state of the initial education. The cost of provision
of university chemistry education is an investment in the true
sense of the word.
Chemistry is vital for future scientific developments.
For example, the human genome has now been sequenced
using techniques developed by chemists and we are now just beginning
to realise that genomic information, controlled by subtle and
complex molecular processes, is stored, expressed and utilised
in ways that are barely understood. Thus it will continue to be
advances in understanding how molecular processes control fundamental
cellular pathways that will lead, for example, to new medicines
that will treat and cure many diseases. Chemical sciences will
be at the forefront in translating this priceless information
into an understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate
complex biological pathways. Similarly, better understanding of
natural phenomena coupled with novel synthetic procedures will
improve our environment, conserve precious natural resources and
help generate new energy sources. Advanced materials and new insights
into molecular processes will stimulate commercial exploitation
of new technologies, including nanotechnologies, with significant
savings in energy, consumables and side products.
Against this background, our concerns remain
those which we set out in our submission to the 2004 Comprehensive
Spending Review [CSR] and are reproduced in Appendix 1. When the
outcome from that exercise was published, we believed that the
Government had accepted our points and that urgent action would
follow. The CSR promised that science and innovation would have
it promised more money for science
and education, and accepted the urgent need to secure the future
of UK university science and technology;
it provided foundations from which
the UK could meet the global challenges and proposed plans to
secure the scientific building blocks, including chemical sciences.
We are now six months further on. While the
RSC welcomes the recent announcement that research councils will
pay 80 percent of the full economic cost of projects, we are still
waiting for the promised help for strategically important subjects.
It appears that there will be no genuinely new money until at
least 2008: this will be too late.
In our submission to the CSR we set out why
the UK needs a strong base in the chemical sciences:
the chemical sciences provide the
core expertise for scientific, technological development, and
are key to underpinning industrial sectors;
the chemical and pharmaceutical industries
are one of the UK's largest manufacturing sectors;
together, chemical and pharmaceutical
industries contribute £5 billion to the balance of payments,
£5 billion tax revenue each year and provide over 250,000
jobs in the high tech sector;
the chemical sciences are a vital
component of a vast variety of downstream businesses such as the
food industry, consumer products, energy, mining, high technology
and protecting the environment.
Neither England, nor the UK as a whole, can
afford to lose more teaching or research capacity if it is to
have a viable long-term chemical sciences component in its innovation
plans, or to have sustainable activities in related areas such
as biological sciences, the food industry, energy and the environment.
The timing of this inquiry is especially important
as the Government seeks to establish its Science and Innovation
Investment Framework against an apparently accelerating pattern
of university science department closures.
The UK produces about 3000 graduate chemists
annuallyaround the long term averageof which about
80% are from English universities. As the 2002 "SET for Success"
". . . graduates and postgraduates in these
strongly numerical subjects [including chemistry] are in increasing
demand in the economyto work in R&D, but also to work
in other sectors (such as financial services or ICT) where there
is a strong demand for their skills. Many areas of biological
science research increasingly rely on the supply of these skills."
However, since the publication of the Science
and Innovation Investment Framework in July, another two universities
have announced that they are to stop teaching chemistry (Exeter
University and Anglia Polytechnic University), with the loss of
the Exeter degree course alone potentially resulting in a 2% cut
in the annual number of places for chemistry undergraduates.
This rate of loss leads us to the conclusion
that unless action is taken now, the success of the Government's
Science and Innovation agenda will be seriously undermined.
Continued closures also call into question the
Funding Councils' and universities' commitment to the implementation
of the Investment Framework, particularly when the reason behind
these closures was not lack of student demand for places, but
short-term financial pressures within the individual universities.
The RSC was disappointed that it took until
December 2004 for the Government to ask HEFCE to review the provision
of strategic subjects across Higher Educationand disheartened
that this review will not be completed until Spring 2006. The
RSC is now pressing for an accurate, speedy review, resulting
in strategy development and its urgent implementation and will
help in anyway possible.
Action is needed now before the UK loses its
leading position in research and teaching in science.
asserts that the UK needs a long-term
strategy for provision of science and technology in universities
so that it can at least maintain current capacity to meet national
and regional skills capability, and research and innovation needs;
reiterates the urgent need for investment
of £300 million to secure the short-term viability of science
teaching and research in universities;
considers that regional accessibility
and diversity of science courses must be explicitly accommodated
as part of the overall contribution to meeting the wider UK needs.
Action is particularly pressing because:
a strong university science base
is essential for the success of the Science and Innovation Investment
Framework and to make the UK the partner of choice for investment
if SET teaching and research in universities
is to be sustainable, they cannot be run on short-term business
modelsthey must be developed strategically to provide the
necessary longer term capacity for training and research;
SET needs new money now. The "new"
money cannot merely be a redistribution of existing fundsthese
are already insufficientbut must be a strategic deployment
to underpin national research capacity and guarantee the facilities
needed to educate the UK's future scientists;
the UK continues to suffer delays
in the effective implementation of the Comprehensive Spending
Review/Science and Innovation Investment Framework. These delays
are forcing universities to close departments of strategic UK
The RSC respects the autonomy of the universities.
The case for strategic science provision is not an attack on the
doctrines of university autonomy or academic freedom.
However, we do believe that the recent decisions
to close departments have been "fire fighting" decisions
by Vice-Chancellors in a bid to meet their short-term financial
targets rather than decisions based on a considered structured
approach to ensure the longer-term viability for science within
the university structure. Our evidence shows that recent decisions
to close university chemistry departments have not been based
on reduced student demand. Indeed, the overall application figures
for chemistry 2004 show an increase of 6.5% in the numbers of
students applying to study at the undergraduate level. Student
demand for chemistry was buoyant at Kings College London, Queen
Mary College, University of London, and Exeter Universityat
all of which recent closures have been announcedand yet
the decisions to close their departments were made despite this
There is no dispute that teaching and research
in chemical sciences are more expensive than some other subjects.
Student numbers are limited by access to available laboratory
space, and laboratories can only be used for practical work. The
real costs of science provision are simply not accounted for in
current HEFCE funding models and this is a very serious issue.
HEFCE recognises that within its funding model
the allocation for teaching does not provide sufficient monies
to cover the full costs for teaching laboratory-based subjects
such as the chemical sciences. In fact, HEFCE undertook a major
consultation exercise to explore how the funding model might be
changed to reflect better the real costs of teaching chemistry
during 2003. The proposed changes were rejected by the HEFCE Board
because of the impact that redistribution of funds would have
on other subjects. Instead HEFCE did agree to a review of the
full cost of teaching but this is unlikely to report before 2008,
but clearly severe damage will be done in the meantime.
The RSC is currently undertaking its own study
to establish income and expenditure on chemistry in universities.
Data supplied to the RSC in confidence indicate that the majority
of chemistry departments are operating at substantial deficits.
The pilot phase of the study identified deficits of between 24%
and 60% of gross income. The RSC hopes that when the study is
complete the income and expenditure data will go some way to quantify
the deficit that chemical sciences within UK universities face.
[This is an area on which we could perhaps expand in giving oral
The Research Assessment Exercise has seriously
affected longer-term science provision.
Despite only focusing on research activities,
the RAE continues to be seen as "the only game in town"
by many Vice-Chancellors when assessing the credibility and quality
of academic units regardless of student numbers or the quality
of teaching (eg Chemistry closure at University of Wales, Swansea).
The outcome following the RAE 2001 was disastrous
for those departments graded 4 or below in England and Wales.
Managing the financial consequences has led Vice-Chancellors to
redeploy funds from grade 4 departments to "reward"
their more highly graded activities. This approach appears to
be a major component of planning exercises currently under way
to position institutions ahead of the RAE in 2008. Universities
are looking at a limited pot of government money designedbut
which failsto meet the demands of a strong portfolio of
academic research. Coupled with the high costs of running adequate
laboratory facilities, a grade 4 or below physical science department
is highly problematic for universities when there are other departments
which are cheaper to run that are also making demands on limited
4 DEPARTMENTS ARE
The RSC is also becoming increasingly concerned
that while financial worries are used to justify individual closures,
there appears to be a growing culture amongst universities of
not allowing a grade 4 or below science department to remain for
reasons of overall academic credibility. And this is despite the
fact that a research grade of 4 reflects national excellence in
virtually all of the research activity submitted, and some evidence
of international excellence.
The RSC, in partnership with the Institute of
Physics [IoP], has commissioned an independent and pioneering
report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the economic returns to
both the individual and to the state from studying various degree
subjects. The full report is included in Appendix 2.
The report shows that, in today's terms, the
value to the individual of completing a degree is £129,000
more that for non-graduates with similar backgroundswhich
translates into a 12.1% annual rate of return over a life-time
of earnings. The rate of return for chemistry graduates is higher
at 15.0%; as is the case for physics (14.9%) and engineering (15.5%).
The rate of return (based upon increased tax revenues) to the
State for the investment in providing these courses is 12.1% for
chemistry graduates; 13.0%; for physics, and 13.1% for engineering.
Therefore, on this basis, the directed allocation
of increased resources to science courses would lead to increased
returns to the State and the individual: consideration of only
the short-term cash cost neglects the long-term gains that the
Government will receive and neglects our future economic needs.
For the first time this study has produced clear evidence of the
economic benefits from studying science and engineering in Higher
Education: while the short term cash costs are high the overall
cash return to the individual and to the state more than repay
the initial investment. This evidence must be used to guide how
Government and the Funding Councils allocate resources.
Despite some additional monies, even the Government
has acknowledged that it is still not fully supporting the science
it already has underway.
More worryingly, it has taken almost six months following the
publication of the settlement for the Department of Education
and Skills to task the Funding Councils to address strategic science
provision in universities. In the summer there was not the luxury
of time for review and debate when the science and innovation
framework was first published. But the recent spate of closures
shows that the area is in even worse health now. We look to Government
and HECFE to work with us to promote science in a co-ordinated
and effective way.
The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae,
as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial
viability of university science departments
The RSC appreciates that the HEFCE funding formula
for teaching and QR funds is used to calculate each individual
university's block grant, and that these are distributed to universities
for them to spend as they see fit in order to fulfil their various
missions. However, the monies made available for QR funding are
inadequate especially given that funds distributed through the
research councils have significantly increased in the last few
years. Whilst the introduction of the full economic cost model
for research will provide more research funds, QR money should
allow institutions to invest money strategically and to support
the development of young staff. Currently it does not.
It is increasingly the case that the HEFCE funding
formula affects the way in which individual universities distribute
monies to individual departments. Many Vice-Chancellors feel that
they are under pressure from their staff to follow HEFCE's lead
in respect of subject weightings and use these in their internal
financial models. Consequently, subjects which are under funded
in the institutional block grant have inadequate funds passed
to them through university systems.
The weighting used for different RAE grades
are well known but it is worth reflecting on the impact that these
grades have on individual departments. In England, 3a and 3b rated
units of assessment no longer receive any QR funds, and 4-rated
departments receive considerably less funding than they did following
the 1996 RAE. The two reasons for this are the increasing proportion
of units of assessments rated 5 and 5*, and changes in the grade
weighting to give more funds to higher rated units of assessment.
To look at some typical figures: a 4-rated chemistry
department with 25 category A staff might receive QR funding of
£450,000. The same size department rated 5 or 5* would receive
£1,255,500 or £1,512,900 respectively. In other words
QR funding of £18,000 per academic member of staff might
be earned in a 4-rated chemistry department in contrast to £60,516
in a 5* rated department (similar figures were used by Exeter
University in contrasting the QR monies earned by Biological and
Chemical Sciences with Physics). Or put another way, for a moderate
sized chemistry department the difference between a 4-grade and
a 5*-grade is over £1 million in QR income.
The impact of QR funding on the viability of
science departments cannot, however, be looked at separately from
teaching funding. Chemistry is significantly under-funded by the
subject weighting applied to teaching (and research). In consequence,
income lost by obtaining a 4 research rating serves further to
worsen the deficit from teaching and tempts Vice-Chancellors to
cut their losses through closure. In the current climate, every
4-rated chemistry department must be regarded as vulnerable.
The RSC knows that a number of science departments
use research funds to subsidise their teaching activities and
believes that the introduction of TRAC could exacerbate financial
problems in under resourced science departments.
Even Departments which are apparently financially
healthy are under pressure from management to increase the number
of overseas students, since the fees paid by these students are
much higher and compensate for under-funding of home students.
A HEFCE consultation in 2003
looked at the funding method for allocating teaching funds. As
part of the supporting data for that consultation, HEFCE reported
that the money universities spend on chemistry is 37% per student
more than pharmacy, 19% more than the biosciences, 17% more than
earth and environmental sciences and 12% more than with engineering,
to take four examples, yet all are in the same band and therefore
funded equally through the HEFCE funding formula. HEFCE proposed
that more expensive band B subjects, including chemistry, should
be allocated more funds in the funding formula than those that
are less expensive. In the event the proposal was not implemented
but rather a fundamental review of the cost of teaching was called
for and this is unlikely to report before 2008.
The HEFCE data call into question the practice
of funding according to a small number of very broad bands. A
more granular approach would, within the same overall cost, more
closely match subject income to expenditure, reducing the under-funding
(or, indeed, in some cases over-funding) of subjects. The ability,
and willingness, of universities to provide teaching in a particular
discipline would not be dependent on cross-subsidy from other
The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend
Concentration of research in a small number
of universities is likely to have a number of undesirable consequences:
Further reduction in HEFCE funding
to 4-rated departments in order to fund higher rated departments
is likely to lead to the closure of both the teaching and research
functions. Closure of teaching and research in chemistry at Kings
College, London; Queen Mary, University of London; University
of Wales, Swansea; and University of Exeter, was essentially due
to financial pressures from their research ratings;
Closures of teaching will lead to
a net reduction in the number of places available to study chemistry
at undergraduate level. It is unlikely that a smaller number of
universities would have sufficient laboratory space and other
facilities to make up for the loss in capacity, and there would
be strong resistance to new buildings. A chemistry department
that is closed and staff dispersed is unlikely to be reopened:
the capacity is lost for ever;
Closure of provision could lead to
"regional deserts" which will affect the ability of
students to study chemistry locally. In particular the closure
of chemistry at Queen Mary, University of London affected members
of ethnic minorities groups who by tradition live at home and
study at their local university. These individuals are now unlikely
to study chemistry but will probably find another subject at Queen
Mary. In an era of increased student debt, the financial attraction
of living at home will be strong for many students and their subsequent
choice of subject will be determined by what is on offer at their
The RSC fully accepts that to compete on the
world stage in research requires expensive equipment and infrastructure
which means that there must be selectivity in funding research.
However, research selectivity must not be the sole driver for
undergraduate teaching policy.
The implications for university science teaching
of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the
teaching funding formula
The detail on this point has been given above.
The teaching funding formulae are fatally flawed.
The RSC believes that science and engineering
teaching in universities is under-funded in general and that subjects
such as chemistry are more under-funded than some others. Even
if HEFCE's 2003 proposals on a differential band B had been implemented,
although the position of chemistry would have improved relative
to other subjects, chemistry would still have been under-funded
though it would have been in a better position than now.
Chemistry is relatively expensive for a number
of reasons. The education of high quality chemistry graduates
requires that students spend a considerable time in a laboratory,
space that is inflexible in the sense that it cannot be used for
other activities out of term time. Chemistry makes demands on
consumable budgets, for example the purchase and disposal of solvents,
as well as requiring capital items such as glassware, small scale
stirring systems, and routine spectrometers. However, as indicated
above these increased costs are more than repaid over a life time
of earnings from the students on consequent tax receipts by the
State: the raw cash cost is a poor indicator of relative economic
The optimal balance between teaching and research
provision in universities, giving particular consideration to
the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
The vast majority of chemistry departments remaining
in the UK are in pre-1992 universities. The majority of these
institutions regard themselves as research and teaching institutions.
However, the same institutions appear to place a premium on their
overall research profile as judged by the RAE grades of their
research schools and, as we have already been pointed out, recent
closures of chemistry departments have occurred in spite of healthy
The key issue here is that by the current funding
model science and engineering is under-funded for teaching and
In the case of the more expensive subjects like
chemistry and physics, the resulting larger teaching and research
deficits mean that closure is more likely than for some other
departments. RSC evidence suggests that it is unlikely that a
teaching only chemistry department would be viable under current
funding models because in most chemistry departments there is
cross-subsidy of teaching by research.
For a teaching only department to be viable
significantly higher student-staff ratios than is the norm would
be required and this would bring into question the quality of
teaching provision given the high contact hours required. The
RSC is concerned at the reduction in the diversity of chemistry
provision as witnessed by the loss of courses at HND and HNC level.
This loss has occurred at least in part because the traditionally
teaching orientated institutions have found that it is not viable
to provide such courses despite the demand from industry for the
studentsthe well trained techniciansfrom these courses.
The importance of maintaining a regional capacity
in university science teaching and research
Planning for the RAE in 2008 is affecting regional
provision and the diversity of courses offered in all institutions,
hence the current impact on chemistry.
One serious consequence is the risk of the appearance
of "regional deserts"regions where those students
who, for whatever reason, wish to study from home, are prevented
from doing so. Students who wish to study chemistry locally in
East London can no longer use Queen Mary, University of London;
students in Penzance who do not wish to move 200 miles away to
study chemistry find that they must nevertheless do so.
The "regional deserts" affect industry.
Those businesses and industries who wish to use their local universities
to develop specific skills or undertake focused research or innovation
activities may find that their local institution does not have
chemistry teaching or research.
Such a development is in total contrast to that
recommended in the Lambert Review.
For example, companies based in East Anglia who wish to train
employees locally [part-time] in chemical techniques are no longer
able to do so. It is vital that regional capacity is maintained
in university science to allow access for students to subjects
like chemistry and to allow local industry to interact with a
Increasing student debt, and stories in the
media about that debt, means that increasing numbers of students
will look to their local university and their subject choices
will be determined by what is on offer in that institution. Furthermore,
it is difficult to predict how the introduction of higher fees
in 2006 will affect student behaviour.
Whilst the RSC recognises that, from 2006, fees
will no longer be required to be paid upfront, the fact that the
fees will be higher than currently may result in increasing numbers
of students being forced to minimise their costs by living at
home. Additionally, among some ethnic groups it is preferred that
students live at home while studying, so once again among these
groups subject choice will be determined by what is on offer locally.
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
The UK cannot afford to see subjects like chemistry
die largely due to a university financial system that inadequately
funds subjects of key strategic importance.
Proper financial support for the chemical sciences
is essential if the 10-Year Investment Strategy for Science and
Innovation is to be realised and if we are to combat the real
challenges of climate change, improved energy efficiency, the
need to discover new medicines and achieve sustainable development.
The RSC believes that the UK needs a national
strategy for science and part of this should be the comprehensive
regional provision of teaching in chemistry.
The key determinant here should be that a potential
student should be able to study chemistry at a "local"
universitynot necessarily the nearest university but one
which is accessible in a reasonable commuting time. Industry should
also have access to chemical science research expertise at a local
university, again not necessarily the nearest university but one
that is reasonably close.
University research and teaching in chemistry
is under-fundedeven departments where student numbers are
healthy suffer financiallyand this situation is exacerbated
if the departments in question have RAE research grades of 4 or
The RSC contends that Government should ensure
that a set number of chemistry departments are adequately funded
for teaching and research at a world-class standard across the
whole of the UK, and that any gaps in local provision for chemistry
teaching are filled by adequately funded chemistry departments
whose mission is predominantly, but not exclusively, teaching.
Action is needed now.
33 "SET for Success: the supply of people with
science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills",
the report of Sir Gareth Roberts' Review, Department of Trade
and Industry, April 2002. Back
"Science and innovation investment framework 2004-14",
HM Treasury, July 2004. Back
Developing the funding method for teaching from 2004-05. Back
"Lambert review of business-university collaboration"
Final Report, HM Treasury, December 2003. Back