Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence



  We would like to conclude by offering some observations pertinent to the recently announced closure of Chemistry at Exeter. We provide these comments against the relevant questions.

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

  Given the age profile of our staff (mostly young in 2001 and starting to build their own research reputations), a Grade 4 in RAE2001 was a sensible objective and was supported fully by the University with a view to returning a Grade 5 submission (or equivalent) in the subsequent RAE. Having realised this mid-term objective, the drive to fund only 5- and 5*-rated UoAs did not help Exeter Chemistry (rated Grade 4 in 2001) as Grade 4 UoAs were eventually given access to a QR pool that was initially fixed in monetary terms. This reduced income attributable to the Department.

  The management regime of Vice Chancellor and Registrar changed in the period 2002-03 and led to a change in funding model to one in which all income was assigned to the Schools and all costs and expenditure were charged. This led to an apparent deficit in Chemistry, and yet in spite of public assurances by the Vice Chancellor that cross-subsidy between academic Schools would be retained and indeed "would make it easier to keep the School (of Biological and Chemical Sciences) open", less than a year later, cross-subsidy is gone and has been used as the argument for closure. The closure of the Chemistry Department at Exeter therefore arises directly from the lack of cross subsidy. There has been no attempt to revise the financial model in order to preserve Chemistry (and the other subject areas that will be cut) in the light of the effects that its imposition will have on the University. The imposition of a particular financial model has thus been put above any academic vision. HEFCE's research funding formulae represent a significant challenge to Universities—one that Exeter did not even try to meet. What adds insult to injury is that the figures used as the basis for the closure were in error and our attempts to discuss this error with the University led to silence (68% of the deficit arose from activity in other parts of the School other than Chemistry).

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

  We have argued that concentration of research is not a panacea and believe that there is a role for medium-sized Departments like that found in Exeter.

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

  It will not escape your attention that attracting students in the Physical Sciences is difficult, and for many years Exeter did not meet its University-set quota for intake. However, it has worked extremely hard at this (being held up as a model practitioner internally) and has, for the last three years, been at or over quota. This year, it was the only non-Oxbridge Chemistry Department not in clearing. The University says that we have the third lowest entry qualifications for our students, yet our efforts in recruitment have resulted in an increase in the qualifications of our students on entry. Since the introduction of Curriculum 2000, the average entry qualifications of our students has risen by the equivalent of one A-level grade each year. Furthermore, our open-minded admissions policy means that the Department of Chemistry is a r¼le model in the University for meeting its targets in Widening Participation. In addition, applications have risen by more than 20% in each of the last two years and were on a steep upwards trend this year. To get to such a position is the envy of almost every Chemistry Department in the country.

  Closure is, therefore, particularly galling given that demand for our programmes was great and increasing. A sensible funding model for teaching would have made a huge difference.

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

  We have argued aspects of this point in our general response. However, once more there is a particular local dimension given the concentration of Chemical Industry on the North Cornish coast (eg Key Organics—Camelford; Maybridge—Tintagel; Tripos—Bude). Relationships with these companies are good, they have employed many of our graduates and some of their staff have undertaken CPD with us. The potential for collaboration with researchers at the University also played a significant part in attracting the Meterological Office to the City of Exeter, and a number of joint projects had already been established with staff in Chemistry. This local provision is now set to disappear. Where was the RDA?

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.

  If Government has a policy that seeks to protect Chemistry as a subject, then it seems strange that it appears willing to allow a University's finance model to overtake an academic agenda and drive a coach and horses through that policy without so much as a murmur.

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