Chemistry Fails the Acid Test; Dilemma of Funding Cuts and Dwindling Demand University Axes a Science Department as 'Soft' Subjects Take Precedence - Education's Dumbing Down Goes On
Byline: SARAH HARRIS
A UNIVERSITY provoked fury yesterday by axing its chemistry and music departments amid the rising popularity of 'soft' subjects.
The cash-saving move by Exeter university prompted the threat of legal action by a campaign group.
It will also heighten fears of a looming catastrophe in science as universities across the country increasingly ditch chemistry and physics.
Academics warn that changes to funding rules, coupled with students opting for more fashionable subjects such as psychology and media studies, put more courses at risk of closure.
Exeter's governing council ratified a decision by its Senate to stop teaching chemistry and music. The university said in a statement that chemistry would be phased out and although music making would continue, the academic study of music would cease once current students had graduated.
A total of 130 academic and support staff now face redundancy.
The cuts are designed to slash a [pounds sterling]4.5million annual budget deficit. Exeter's chemistry department has become too expensive to run as it has only been given a four-rating by the Higher Education Funding Council.
Government cash is instead directed towards departments with the top ratings of five and five-star in an attempt to create a world-class elite with the clout to compete internationally. But only 40 chemistry departmentsremain in Britain and academics are warning that all but six could have closed by the end of the decade.
Kent University has replaced its chemistry degrees with forensic science because of lack of interest among applicants. King's College London and Queen Mary, University of London, have also axed chemistry.
Physics faces similar problems with scientists claiming that 16 out of 50 surviving departments are threatened with closure due to funding cuts and dwindling demand from students. Newcastle University recently announced it was scrapping pure physics degree courses.
Meanwhile a BBC survey found that one in five UK universities had either recently shut down at least one subject or department or was planning to do so. These include pure chemistry at Anglia Polytechnic University; linguistics, German and Scandinavian studies at East Anglia; geography and environmental science at Huddersfield; French and Spanish at Kingston; performing and cultural industries at Leeds; and agricultural sciences at Imperial. …