Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Chemical Industries Association


  The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) is seriously concerned by the threatened closure of chemistry departments in the UK, as they are a vital source of trained manpower for the UK chemical manufacturing and research base. The CIA believes a rational, and perhaps radical, realignment of funding for chemistry is required within UK universities, as chemistry departments possessing greater critical mass in research, teaching, training and/or technology transfer are needed to meet evolving societal and business needs.

  Greater emphasis needs to be given to creating well-funded and world-class centres of excellence for UK chemistry concentrating on both pure and applied research as well as on the delivery of competent and skilled scientists.

  The CIA also believes that special emphasis must continue on supporting chemistry departments in their development of practical skills for the successful integration of trained graduates into analytical services and R&D laboratories in industry.


  The CIA welcomes this opportunity to present written evidence on this very important issue, which the industry believes is vital to its future success. This evidence seeks to support, from the chemical industry's perspective, evidence submitted by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

  With turnover of £50 billion, the chemical industry is one of the UK's largest manufacturing industries. Over the last decade it grew almost three times faster than the average for all industry. It is manufacturing's number one exporter, with an annual trade surplus of £5.6 billion; it spends £2 billion a year on new capital investment and 10% of its sales on research and development. It contributes approximately £5 billion in tax every year.

  Skills are vital to the chemical industry, as indeed they are for all of the chemistry-using industries, underpinning everything that we do. The 2001 DTI Chemicals Innovation and Growth Team report identified a sharp decline in the number of students studying chemistry and the chemical sciences. For industries that rely on innovation to deliver value-added, this is of real concern. The decline in students is impacting directly on university chemistry courses leading to a shortage of graduates. The CIA believes that UK industries that rely on their ability to do chemistry will not be sustainable without them—who else is going to develop the innovative products and processes needed to ensure our industries' future?

  The chemical industry is truly global and the majority of UK businesses are either foreign owned or have significant operations overseas. Companies make strategic decisions every day on where to place their business globally. A key element to this decision-making is the local availability of skills, chemistry and chemical engineering graduates being of prime consideration. The closure of chemistry departments, potentially leading to a reduction in the overall UK skills base, may therefore have a direct affect on UK PLC's bottom line with jobs and revenue moving abroad. We believe this has already begun to happen.

  Society also benefits significantly from scientifically trained individuals that have the ability to draw informed conclusions when presented with often complex and conflicting evidence, for example when considering the GMO debate and Nanotechnology. This is becoming more and more important as the industry continually needs to justify its licence to operate in today's society.


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

  We do not have a view on the closure of individual chemistry departments; we believe that is a matter for individual universities. We do have strong views on, and are very concerned by the overall process that has led this to happen. The need for chemistry teaching to be cross-subsidised by chemistry research is totally unsustainable in today's cost conscious university sector. The UK needs a sustainable chemistry teaching structure, financially independent from research with each student attracting sufficient funding to cover the cost of his or her tuition.

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

  Chemistry is a practical, research-based subject. The chemical industry requires graduates that not only understand the basic fundamentals of chemistry but also have experience working in a research environment. The two go hand-in-hand and we believe that neither a teaching only department nor a research only department would equip graduates and postgraduates with the skills that industry needs. However, it should be possible for departments to be excellent at teaching chemistry and be financially viable, without also needing to be world class at research.

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

  The lack of maintenance of regional capacity in university science teaching and research is already having a significant affect on areas of the chemical industry. For example, some CIA member companies are unable to find suitable universities in their local vicinity with whom they can undertake collaborative innovation or to whom they can send their staff for training. This increases the cost and inconvenience of undertaking such activities, putting barriers in the way of workforce up-skilling and innovation.

January 2005

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