Royal Society furious as Exeter drops chemistry courses

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The Independent Online

One of the country's top-ranked universities is to abandon teaching chemistry after saying it was losing £3m a year by offering the subject.

One of the country's top-ranked universities is to abandon teaching chemistry after saying it was losing £3m a year by offering the subject.

Exeter University said yesterday it would stop offering the subject, despite a 21 per cent increase in applications this year, with five applicants competing for every place.

The Royal Society of Chemistry described the decision as disastrous and called on the Government to intervene.

Exeter, the seventh-most popular university in the country, blamed its decision on a change in funding by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Professor Steve Smith, vice-chancellor, said: "We have some tough decisions. The higher education marketplace has changed massively in the last year and we cannot just carry on doing the same things we have always done."

Exeter's chemistry department was rated four out of five stars by the Funding Council, so it received less than half the funding per academic of its five-star-rated physics department ­ £21,000 per academic compared with £46,000.

Meanwhile, Kent University has replaced its chemistry degrees with forensic science because of lack of interest in chemistry among applicants. This follows the closure of chemistry departments at King's College London and Queen Mary, University of London.

The Royal Society of Chemistry fears more closures. Only 40 chemistry departments remain in British universities and the society predicts at best 20, and at worst six, will still be open in 10 years.

In the past decade 10 university chemistry courses have closed. Since 1997 the number of chemistry students has fallen from 7,490 to 5,735.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has expressed concern about the closures and has asked cabinet colleagues to submit lists of "subjects of strategic national importance".

He plans to ask the funding council to devise plans to protect these subjects. Chemistry is expected to be included.

Exeter also said its degrees in Italian and music would be discontinued. It said it expected the number of applications for language courses to fall with the ending of compulsory study of them for 14-year-olds.

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