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Author: Subject: Chemistry Crisis in UK Universities
Sergei_Eisenstein
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Chemistry Crisis in UK Universities

The following text is the editorial from Organic Process Research & Development 363 (2006) 10.

As an industrial organic chemist, I am well aware of how much industry owes to the work that is done by our academic friends, and published freely. We can take this work and use it - since the work is rarely patented - without obligation to the originator and generate profits for the company. We also can recruit excellent chemists who have been trained in the basics of chemistry - and more - whilst carrying out studies toward a Bachelor of Science degree, work toward a PhD, and postdoctoral work. Strong university chemistry departments are therefore vital for the continued profitability of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

It was therefore sad to find out that my local university, the University of Sussex, where I am a visiting professor, is planning to close its chemistry department. The department has an outstanding history since it started in the 1960s, and in 40 years has housed three Nobel Prize winners and eight Fellows of the Royal Society. It is judged, for the purposes of funding, as a grade 5 department, i.e., internationally recognised, one of only 19 such departments in the United Kingdom.

The department is also highly rated for teaching, with an excellent staff-student ratio and was ranked second in the UK by the Guardian newspaper and sixth by the Times Good University Guides. Applications to study chemistry are well up on previous years.

So why is the department closing? A change in the way chemistry is allocated funds in recent times means that most chemistry departments are running at a loss - no allowance is made in the funding structure for the fact that chemistry is an expensive subject and requires more facilities than nonsciences in the same manner as medicine (which does get more funds!). At Sussex it is disputed whether the department is running at a loss, since money from other sources (patent income and the like) may not have been included in the equation.

The crisis has reached the stage where it has already been discussed in the House of Commons at a Select Committee. MPs are worried that, if Sussex closes, then other prestigious institutions may follow suit, leaving chemistry in crisis in the UK. Exeter University and Kings College, London, have already closed their chemistry departments. Accordingly, there is a plan to try to save the department from closure, and further information on this can be obtained from me (trevor@scientificupdate.co.uk). The issue of Sussex closing has already been highlighted in Chemical & Engineering News (2006, 84(13), 11), and the web edition has more information (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/84/i13/8413Sussex.html). This potential closure is not only bad for the university but also for industry and the UK in general. If Sussex, with its impeccable pedigree closes, then no other UK chemistry department is safe. If the chemical community can work together to save Sussex, it will send a strong message that practicing chemists recognize the importance of continuity and high standards in chemical training and education.

damnant quod non intelligunt
enhzflep
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Given that we now have remote controls for car stereos, and an ever increasing proportion of the workforce is devoted to entertainment, and those 'lovely' standardised grading systems thrust upon us, I would speculate that it's a situation not likely to be remedied in the near future.

The empirical evidence is all around us. We're becoming more lazy, more self-centric and less thirsty for knowledge.

Besides, chemicals make bombs and drugs - much too risky. Better off pumping out un(psychologically)screened bussiness leaders and managers - fully primed to inflict years of misery upon their underlings

Just to end on a comical note, Sergei's post reminded me of a short tale I'm particularly fond of.

It was decided that the IIRC British Patents Office should be closed. Now far from being a hasty decision, this was made by the head of the office, a talented man who'd been in the job for many years. It was after not inconsiderable deliberation and self-debate that he came to this decision. When queried on his motives, he replied that it was to save the public purse any further expense. After all, everything's already been invented - what more could there possibly be?

Needless to say, the office was not closed, nor is it about to be. So, when did this chap say this you ask? Ha, ha. It was just shy of a hundred years ago.
Magpie
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I have not heard that chemistry departments in the US are under a similar threat. What I do hear is that providing chemistry labs is a big expense. I'm also sure that safety, waste disposal, and threats of lawsuits are concerns that make administrators nervous.

With the "baby boomers" (I hate that phrase) now into their sixties pharmacology is king. It is hard to understand how we can abandon chemistry on that basis alone.

I suggest that the UK universities do what seems to be so prevalent in the US: just mention that whatever you want to do might lead to a cure for cancer. That usually gets the nod of approval from everyone.

The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
Magpie
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Sergei, now that I've tried to be funny what you have told us is really starting to piss me off!

The UK has produced a long line of famous chemists and important discoveries in chemistry. To throw this out the window just because the department isn't "paying for itself" is ridiculous. Do the humanities "pay for themselves?" No. They never have, nor should they be expected to. Are the universities going to throw these out too?

If the UK does not support its professors and graduate students the institutions will eventually lose their chemistry staff, facilities, traditions, and memory, and will pay hell to get them back. This would be a tragedy for any country.

The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
The_Davster
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Wait, Chemistry is too expensive!? I am sure chemistry and the other sciences and engineering create much more money for a university than any of the non-science departments(with the exception of law and business, but I don't think either of them actually contribute anything to humanity). When did the 'artsies' ever produce revenue for a university? Not that they need to, of course. I agree with Magpie in that there is a problem with safety, lawsuits, and disposal, but really only disposal is the universities concern, the rest are the results of some sort of disease upon society, the symptoms of which are blaming everyone else for your screwups. People need to adopt more of a 'I screwed up, its my fault' attitude, instead of blaming anyone connected to the incident by some perverted logic of anti-selfreliance. Little billy drinks the bromine and his parents sue, when really, I am sure most of us are glad he is out of the gene pool, and by natural selection, our species progresses. As opposed to chemistry being blamed for this result, which causes its teachings to no longer be taught, and other sciences follow suit, and sooner or later we are in a perfectly safe, sterilized society of imbeciles.

(If you cannot tell from the above ramblings, I am hopping mad over this.)

EDIT: A hundred years or so ago, universities taught the sciences, and some basic humanities, now look at the departments/courses/faculties we have(from my universites 'calendar')
Physical education -WTF...an excuse to get 'Jocks' into university.
Recreation-Same as above
physical activity-another one?!
A course exists on wrestling Many other of such courses exist, so that one may get a university degree in something normally reserved for the playing field. There is even golf.
Witchcraft
Shamanism
Theology
Music-is a university really the place for this? Or would it be best being taught on a 1-on-1 tutor type basis.
Native studies -probally exists, because, this is Canada
Organization
introduction to university

Lets cut the bull, and go back to the way it used to be around the prime of Gottingen

[Edited on 27-10-2006 by The_Davster]

DrP
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 Quote: Originally posted by Magpie Do the humanities "pay for themselves?" No. They never have, nor should they be expected to. Are the universities going to throw these out too?

Hmm - unfortunately they do pay for themselves. It's to do with the number of people who sign for the courses. If 500 people sign up to do an English degree, then thats 500 grants the uni gets from the government. Then if only 40 people sign for chemistry then can 'they' justify keeping the department open?

I think it is a disgrace that these places are being treated like bussiness instead of centres for excellence in education.
quicksilver
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This is terrable news, albiet expected, in these times. The west is rapidly loosing the sciences and eventually we will be in a very bad fix. I agree that the slide toward this loss is exemplified by the "remote control society" we find ourselves in but there is something more here. The sciences are hard work, pure and simple. Universities are keen to make money, not turn out a profundly good product. While athletes are pushed through so as to be able to play and a quota exists for the sexes, a university cannot be expected to maintain standards. Certainly most have not. In this one area capitalism has certainly been counter productive. Add to this the social upheavals of the last fourty years and you have a faulty mix for quality education.... "Free-Market" compitition can sometimes mean shodier goods.

leu
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This issue is primarily caused by faulty accounting methods being applied to university management decisions These short sighted accounting methods are wreaking havoc in the business world as well

Chemistry is our Covalent Bond
quicksilver
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The Humanities could pay for themselves in that they are a disposable degree; not needing a lab, insurance or things of that nature. A simple salery, a capable prof, T.A.'s and your off and running.
When they would look for returns is when there is an investment of funds for the very elementry teaching component (a lab, etc). That is why Communications, Languages, even Music does well in terms of numbers; little or no investment in hardware.

leu: what accounting methods do you mean in-so-far as related to business and education?

Drunkguy
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The reason chemistry is not a big hitter in the uk is lack of applicants. This is a fact and is not my personal smear on the circumstances.

Magpie
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Chemistry is the central science. Are UK universities going to abandon all science based degrees? E.g., it would be hard to understand biology to any level of sophistication without some understanding of organic chemistry.

Will they abandon pharmacy, dentistry, medicine, forestry, agriculture, botany, forensic criminology, and even education? What's going to be left? - business, law, and the humanities?

And speaking of the health field. I don't know about the UK but in the US it is exploding. All hands-on careers in that field are science based. Is the UK going to import all of its nurses from Asia?

The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
The_Davster
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Is it just degrees in chemistry that are no longer available, or are there no chemistry courses being taught at all? I know here introductory chem courses are required in pretty much any field here.

leu
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Many important factors cannot be measured quantitavely such as employee morale or the value added to society by advances in basic science such as chemistry Thus such things don't appear on a balance sheet and can thus be ignored by short sighted individuals One can see examples of such behavior in politicians, business people and educators, thus this particular sad event is probably not going to be the last such foolish action

Chemistry is our Covalent Bond
I am a fish
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 Quote: Originally posted by Drunkguy The reason chemistry is not a big hitter in the uk is lack of applicants. This is a fact and is not my personal smear on the circumstances.

That is true. However, the blame rests with the government.

Firstly, not all students are interested in getting an education; instead they just want the grades. It is far easier to get these grades by choosing media studies or sports science than it is by choosing chemistry. This will not change until the government abandons the ridiculous notion that all subjects are completely equal.

Secondly, science education has been ruined by underfunding and health-and-safety hysteria. (The government isn't responsible for the hysteria, but could easily stamp it out by guaranteeing full legal support to every school if an accident beyond its control was to happen.) Chemistry would be a lot more attractive if students were allowed to do real experiments with real chemicals, rather than the watered down pap that is done today.

1f /0u (4|\\| |234d 7|-|15, /0u |234||/ |\\|33d 70 937 0u7 /\\/\\0|23.
DrP
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 Quote: Firstly, not all students are interested in getting an education; instead they just want the grades. It is far easier to get these grades by choosing media studies or sports science than it is by choosing chemistry. This will not change until the government abandons the ridiculous notion that all subjects are completely equal.

Exactly - At Kent they now do a Forenzics course which is a mixture of subjects including some chemistry. Some of them complain bitterly as to why they need chemistry at all to do a forensics degree!!! (Being honest I would expect pure chem to be a better degree if doing forensics as a job). This is the only course keeping chemistry open as they get hundereds signing up for forensics. Apparently - a few years ago, Briteny Spears expressed an interest in one of the newspapers to go back to college - she was asked what course she'd take and suggested she may do forensics as it sounded cool - that year the number of forensics applicants went up massively as her fans thought the'd be trendy and do forensics (not many of them expecting a large amount of chemistry)

Along this theme, what used to be Kent uni can no longer call itself that because dozens of other colleges and poly's are now classed as uni's as well and it is not allowed to call itself Kent uni exclusively anymore - Kent uni is now made up of lots of scattered colleges. I read in the paper today that some of these courses are nowhere near the standard or level of work to get the same class degree as the old traditional universities. People are taking the easier option - simple. And yes - the goverment seem to think that now there are more uni's there are more qualified people so everything is going dandy (because their figures say so - despite the depressing reallity)

[Edited on 31-10-2006 by DrP]
I am a fish
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 Quote: Originally posted by DrP Being honest I would expect pure chem to be a better degree if doing forensics as a job.

That's also what the forensic laboratories think:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/c...

On the bright side, science is going from strength to strength in Iran and North Korea.

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Sandmeyer
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There was an interesting point brought up by Overman, the matter of McScience situation in US. Japanese are just laughing and pumping more money in research while US is flexing muscles:

“Right now the United States should feel extremely challenged by what Japan is doing – doubling its basic research budget. There are labs in Japan working in areas similar to mine that have had infusions of millions of dollars in recent years from the Japanese government.”

This has important implications for the future of American science, Overman believes, because the technology of tomorrow will depend on the basic research of today. “Fundamental research, where one is trying to plug a hole that is unknown – how does something work, could we do this, could we make a molecule that has this bizarre shape? – could, 20 years down the road, be the foundation for something very important, yet completely unknown today.”

http://today.uci.edu/Features/profile_detail.asp?key=74

The next american century? bwahaha...

[Edited on 20-7-2007 by Sandmeyer]

vulture
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The problem is that somehow everybody should get atleast a masters degree these days, preferably two if possible. Somewhere along the road governments made the mistake that "everyone should be able to attend a university" equals "everybody should be garanteed a academic degree".

This is also why China and India are blowing us away industrially. Everybody wants to be in management these days and universities pump out wannabe managers at insane rates. Too bad managers need a workforce and R&D to actually produce something.

One shouldn't accept or resort to the mutilation of science to appease the mentally impaired.
unionised
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Last I heard was that schoolkids were not studying difficult subjects like Chem, Phys and Maths at A level. Without those qualifications they won't be able to study chemistry at university. If there aren't any (qualified) students enroling in chemistry courses then you can't blame the universities for closing the departments.
Of course there's another side to this. Why don't these people wish to study maths etc? Is it because they are too dumb? Well I doubt it because I don't think peple change much. I don't think they are smarter or dumber than they have always been.
Perhaps it's because they see chemistry as an unfashionable subject- OK fair enough, it was always a bit geeky. But again, that's not a change- it was never glamourous.
Could it be that they don't see a career with a good salary?
Yes. That could be a big part of it.
Now one of the UK's biggest employers of scientists (chemists inclued) is the goovernment- the same government that says it wants to attract students into science awarded me, and many others, a pay rise last year that was below the rate of inflation.* Yes, they pay scientists less and hope to encourage people to join them.
Incidentally, I thought the reason that "China and India are blowing us away industrially" was that with no labour laws and no environmental legislation they could pay near slave wages and crap up their place. That saves a lot on costs.
Never mind, we can look forward to the day when all these folks with media studies "degrees" are running the country.

*
Obviously, they awarded themselves pay rises well above inflation.

[Edited on 22-7-07 by unionised]
Mr. Wizard
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This will seem political, because the cause of the 'problem' is political. Many of the jobs that chemists held are now being done in countries with cheaper labor, cheaper taxes and less stringent pollution rules. Why bother producing chemists or science majors in the UK and the US when they are being hired in China or India? Don't the "greens' and other anti-capitalist groups just see chemists as part of the problem ? Could they be thinking; the fewer chemists there are the easier it will be to solve the problem? Of course there is always money for the multi-cultural programs and the gay- studies classes, global warming, and subsidizing third world immigration. There is always money to take away influence and fragment the core group that created modern technology and civilization.

This discussion could be compared to a man who is complaining about how hot it is without noticing that his house is on fire. Scientists don't exist in a vacuum, they are the fruit of a free thinking healthy society, and the conditions are changing. If any one group on the Internet should be able to grasp equilibrium and what will tilt an outcome in a certain direction, we are it.

In a larger context, civilization itself is no more guaranteed than anything else. It has to be nourished and protected.

edited spelling

[Edited on by Mr. Wizard]

[Edited on by Mr. Wizard]
franklyn
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That a chemistry department is looked at as it can serve as a source of revenue,
and on that basis is discontinued, just shows that it is poorly managed to begiin
with. Universities in the United Kingdom have worldwide a preassigned credibility of
excellence ( wether or not it is actually merited ) not often attributed to indigenous
facilities. Increasingly, and certainly those schools located in cosmopolitan western
cities, foreign students are a major source of the schools income. The fact that
this ready resource has not been cultivated demonstrates the detached lack of
awareness by the management of this school of the reality of the contemporary
multinational character of higher learning.

.
Sergei_Eisenstein
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I fully agree with vulture's statement. It is a short and accurate description of the hell that I have seen growing at my workplace the last decade. There are (I'm talking about Europe here) too many administrative functions and too few people who actually work. The problem is not that there is no job for them; the problem is that some theoretical shitholes think the work will be finished better with five bosses and one employee instead of five workers and one boss. There are plenty of meetings, papers, signatures and flow charts, but there simply are few people to actually do something. Also, the laws dictated by the EU are such that they eliminate free initiate. The Euro situation is becoming dangerously similar to the US, and it won't be long until the best PhDs will be Singhs and Wangs, "imported" to keep science alive.

damnant quod non intelligunt
DerAlte
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@Sergei – I was shocked to hear that King’s College London, my alma mater (1954-57) has no chemistry course. I didn’t believe it but checked – it’s true. They were the second college in the UK to have a distinct course in chemistry, c. 1830. University college was first and still has one. And, of course, so does Imperial. Could it be due to consolidation within London University? Or is it PC gone wild, or mere commercialism, as you suggest?

Sussex U did not exist in my day, nor did the scores of other U’s in the UK. Sussex has done very well! And should continue to, if idiot administrators and accountant don't ruin it.

When I attended KC there were about 2500 undergrads. Now there’s about 13,000. Here in the US it is claimed that 25% “go to college”. How many ever graduate I don’t know. In my day at KC about 95% did graduate. Only 5% attended an accredited university then.

The IQ required for entry was then alleged to be 125. That’s about the top 5 percentile, 1.67 sigma above the mean; i.e. it agrees with the 5% number. If you calculate the top 25 percentile, you are at +0.4 sigma. The SD of IQ is 15. Hence today’s entry level (US) is 106. Go figure!

Not that I’m a great believer in the worth of IQ tests, but they do correlate with mathematical and reasoning ability.

Is a ‘college’ a university if is allows such courses as Experimental Knitting 100.05, Remedial Reading 100.001, or Elementary Bessarabian History 100.1 as valid course options? If you stitch a degree out of rubbish the degree becomes rubbish. One wonders how many of today’s so-called universities are not, in fact, rubbish factories.

Regards,

DerAlte
Sandmeyer
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 Quote: Originally posted by DerAlteNot that I’m a great believer in the worth of IQ tests, but they do correlate with mathematical and reasoning ability.

I don't think I agree, I have a high score on so called mensa test, but I have no mathematical ability whatsoever. Sounds incredible to have IQ tests in UK universities, personally I don't think IQ tests tell anything about if a person is going to become able chemist, physicist methematician...

Sergei_Eisenstein
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 Quote: I don't think I agree, I have a high score on so called mensa test, but I have no mathematical ability whatsoever. Sounds incredible to have IQ tests in UK universities, personally I don't think IQ tests tell anything about if a person is going to become able chemist, physicist methematician...

And they certainly don't predict whether somebody is a nice person or not...

damnant quod non intelligunt
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 Sciencemadness Discussion Board » Non-chemistry » Legal and Societal Issues » Chemistry Crisis in UK Universities Select A Forum Fundamentals   » Chemistry in General   » Organic Chemistry   » Reagents and Apparatus Acquisition   » Beginnings   » Responsible Practices   » Miscellaneous   » The Wiki Special topics   » Technochemistry   » Energetic Materials   » Biochemistry   » Radiochemistry   » Computational Models and Techniques   » Prepublication Non-chemistry   » Forum Matters   » Legal and Societal Issues   » Detritus   » Test Forum