Memorandum from Dr Nigel Stanfield Clarke
I submit this document in my private capacity,
my interest in this inquiry stems from my holding a Bachelor's
and Doctor's degrees in Chemistry from the University of Exeter.
The University of Exeter has announced a number
of drastic proposals which it terms "Refocusing the University"
In practical terms this involves department closuresin
the case of the chemistry department this means the loss if a
strategic science subjectand staff redundancies. In my
opinion this is not so much a "refocusing" but a "limited
field of view with loss of resolution"to continue
the optical analogy.
I refer mainly to the minutes of a meeting of
the Council of the University of Exeter held on 20 December 2004.
(A) These minutes indicate that the decision
to close the department of chemistry was taken impulsively under
the threat of the Auditors not to sign off the accounts, because
of the poor financial situation at Exeter and the Auditors warning
that the credibility of Senior Management and Council was at stake.
In other words. the decision to close the Exeter Chemistry department
was taken at short notice, under duress, with personal credibilities
as priorities, without due consideration for the consequences,
and with insufficient opportunities for alternative solutions
to be proposed by staff affected.
(B) Moreover, the Council members were browbeaten
into voting unconstitutionally for the closures by the Vice Chancellor
"if [council] members did not support the proposals they
needed to offer realistic alternatives rather than simply vote
against". My argument is that there had been no time for
any of the involved parties (staff students senate council) to
prepare such alternative proposals.
The arguments presented by the university to
council are often contradictory:
For example the Vice Chancellor talked about
"the need to build on excellence in science" (the Chemistry
Department had achieved a 4 rating in the last RAE http://www.hero.ac.uk)
He said that critical mass was particularly important in the Sciences".
He spoke about the need to "glory in the University's achievements
particularly in regard to Science [....] and science base".
This is perplexing since the main part of the meeting was about
CUTTING out the main central science of chemistry, ignoring achievements
and reducing the science base.
The Vice Chancellor said that a strategy for
growth should recognise Exeter's individuality and not simply
be based on comparisons with other institutions. Elsewhere he
confounds his argument, justifying his closure proposals by directly
comparing Exeter with other institutions Oxford, Sussex, East
Anglia, Cambridge and the institutions mentioned by the BBC.
He spoke about the 2008 RAE and concluded that
there would be no funding for 4 rated departments. In this he
is assuming that the 2008 RAE would actually take place, not taking
into account the widespread misgivings about the exercise and
indeed doubts whether it will take place at all. If the 2008 RAE
does take place how can he assume that Exeter chemistry would
NOT receive a 5 or 5* rating. Even if the status remained at 4
there is no hard evidence that no funding would be forthcoming.
The timing of the closure announcements and
meetings to approve and ratify give cause for concern.
In the summer of 2004 the University was happy
to announce a £3 million refurbishment of the Chemistry laboratories.
The Head of Department Prof Duncan Bruce announced record high
levels of undergraduate recruitment. The Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury toured the university on the occasion of the BA meeting
in September and was pleased with developments and achievements
in Chemistry. On 22 November a bare two months later, the closure
of the chemistry department was announced, on 1 December Senate
approved the closure and on 20 December Council ratified it.
However it is important to note that on 18 November,
four days before the closure announcement, the audit committee
was informed by the auditors that
the accounts would not be signed off unless certain
concerning financial management had been met.
The closures were announced on 22 November.
Senate met on 1 December to vote on the closures
and approved them.
A subsequent meeting of the Audit committee
was held on 16 December, four days before the Council meeting.
The Auditors were satisfied that "sufficiently
robust" measures were being taken to sustain the institution
as a going concern. They would sign off the accounts for 2003-04
as long as [on condition that] Council approved the [..] recommendations
for restructuring and expenditure reductions.
At the council meeting of 20 December the representative
of the Audit committee said that Audit committee wanted Council
to know that
Financial covenants with the banks should not
be broken again
The Credibility of Senior management and Council
was at stake
In other words, the University acted under the
Auditors duress to propose sufficient closures and staff cuts
in order to enable it (the University) to get its accounts signed
off and to preserve the credibility of Senior Management and Council.
It is to be assumed that the University's accounts
for 2003-04 have now been signed off given that Council have approved
"sufficiently robust" recommendations for restructuring
and expenditure reductions.
It is a great shame that no importance had been
attached to and insufficient opportunity allowed for, finding
There may be one exception. As Professor Talbot
Head designate of the proposed School of Biological and Chemical
Sciences so disparagingly said of proposals by chemistry staff
to create a School of Natural Sciences; ". . .[it] might
seem attractive, but . . . .it represented the management of decline
and an unwillingness to make difficult decisions."
It is perhaps not surprising that someone in
Prof Talbot's position would indeed make such a statement.
A typical dictionary definition of chemistry
1. The science of the composition, structure,
properties, and reactions of matter, especially of atomic and
2. The composition, structure, properties,
and reactions of a substance
This section is concerned with the possibilities
of career choices and continued professional developments which
the academic study of chemistry can afford. I cite my own career
choices and subsequent development in example only.
I would like to demonstrate the powerful impetus
to a career which chemistry can impart and the lifelong benefits
which a knowledge of chemistry can bestow, and from which personally
I have benefited.
As mentioned in the introduction, I have a BSc
(1st class) in Chemistry and a PhD from the University of Exeter.
I chose chemistry above physics to study at university because
of my experiences at A level. I was fortunate, in the Chemistry
Department at Exeter to encounter a dedicated enthusiastic staff
teaching a strong core chemistry course, around which one could
study ancillary subjects (in my case, mathematics (compulsory)
and physics (optional)). One could also follow a number of chemistry
options which enabled one to specialise or generalise. I chose
to specialise in physical chemistry, and chose options accordingly.
I graduated with a solid grounding in chemistry, mathematics and
physics, the latest knowledge of physical chemistry and research
experience. This stood me in good stead for my next career choice;
what research and where? The answer was easy; remain at Exeter,
but study at the interface between physics and chemistry, supervised
by world class researchers and carry out experiments at international
facilities. My PhD was financed by the then SRC under the CASE
Award scheme, and involved neutron scattering research at the
Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory and the Institut Laue Langevin Grenoble.
This short cv is just to underline the scientific
flexibility, which a degree in chemistry can generate.
This flexibility, and agility of mind acquired
during the Exeter Chemistry years allowed me to then move into
academic research in materials science, advanced instrumentation
R&D, defence R&D, and defence project management. From
there I moved into intellectual propertyas a patent examiner,
thence into IT project management, and I am currently in a marketing
and promotion post in an international organisation. (European
Patent Office). During my professional development I have acquired
professional qualifications in chemistry and in physics, and I
have recently been designated a chartered scientist (CSci) as
conferred by the Science Council.
This career history is not to promote myself,
but to highlight the wide possibilities that study of chemistry
can provide. My own wide range of career options, development
and experiences would not have been possible had I not studied
chemistry at Exeter. I should like to take this opportunity of
thanking my mentors at Exeter during the 70s and 80s for their
guidance and inspired teaching.
I owe a lot to Chemistry and in presenting this
document, I hope to put something back.