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Press release


  • 12 March 2006

Development of biosciences and changes to chemistry provision


As part of a strategic plan to focus on areas of academic excellence, the University of Sussex is looking to strengthen its research and teaching in the area of biosciences, alongside investments in other science areas and the arts.

New posts are proposed for biochemistry and genome research, and biology and environmental science. Student numbers in these areas would also be increased.

Science provision in other areas at Sussex also remains strong, with highly successful departments in psychology, informatics, engineering and design, mathematics, physics and astronomy. These areas will continue to develop, with new posts being added.

The plans in biosciences involve retaining organic chemistry and chemical biology - areas of chemistry where Sussex is strong. Sussex would no longer offer straight chemistry degrees, but would continue to run programmes in chemical biology, which is a leading area of research and development. From 2007 the department would be renamed the Department of Chemical Biology.

If plans are approved by the University's governing bodies, the changes would result in the current staff of 14 academics in the Department of Chemistry being reduced to seven through a voluntary severance scheme. The University is committed to providing a full teaching programme for all current students through to completion. There are currently 20 chemistry undergraduates in each year, six postgraduates and 33 postgraduate research students.

The difficult decision has been made after changes to chemistry provision in recent years in other leading research universities including Exeter, Kings College London, Queen Mary's London, Dundee and Surrey.

Sussex has lost some leading researchers to larger chemistry departments in recent years and now has a very small department (14 academics) with a small student intake (around 20 new undergraduates per year). Our intake accounts for less than one per cent of all new chemistry students in England.

It is true that chemistry at Sussex has had an outstanding academic history, with two Nobel prize winners in the past and a five rating in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. There is, however, no certainty of achieving a similar rating in the 2008 RAE - and even if we did, the smaller size of our staffing numbers being submitted this time would significantly reduce future funding.

Although student applications for chemistry at Sussex have risen this year, due to our league table standings, applications do not translate into offers being accepted by students who achieve the required A-Level grades. Out of 300 offers made, we could expect an intake at the very best of 35-40. We have achieved intakes of only 20 a year in recent years.

Overall, retaining a chemistry department in its present form for the long-term would cost an extra £750k, with no guarantee of long-term success in recruitment or research activity. We believe that level of investment should stay in the biosciences and areas of chemistry most closely related to them - areas of science where we will be strongest in the future.

With continuing growth and development in major academic areas, Sussex retains its position as one of the world's leading universities. In the Times Higher Educational Supplement's University World Rankings for 2005, Sussex was placed 13th among UK Universities, 36th in Europe and 100th in the World. A further breakdown of the tables into broad disciplines within universities placed Sussex in the top 10 for arts and humanities, and for social sciences.

The changes to chemistry form part of a major new academic restructuring plan for the University, which will focus on investing in areas of strength and excellence. This includes creating 75 new academic posts across a range of subjects, including maths, engineering, the biosciences, economics, informatics, music and English.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith says: "We are committed to developing and maintaining a strong and excellent academic base across the arts and sciences. This is a forward-looking agenda to bring in fresh skills and talents, with an overall investment programme of £4.4m."

Notes for editors

 

  • The University of Sussex lists two chemistry Nobel prize winners among its former staff. Sir Harry Kroto, who left the University in 2005 for Florida State University, was awarded the prize in 1996 for co-discovering fullerenes. Sir John Cornforth, now retired, received the prize in 1976 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions.
  • Chemical Biology is a leading area of development at the interface between chemistry and biology where exciting new opportunities exist. Chemical biology  seeks to employ chemical techniques to answer biological questions. In relation to teaching programmes, we are considering scope for new programmes in areas such as pharmaceutical chemistry or biomolecular science.
  • Proposals have been developed over the current spring term and were presented to the University's Strategy and Resources Committee on 10 March, and will go to Senate (the University's academic body) on 17 March  and Council (the University's governing body) on 24 March. Proposals are being presented generally to staff and students from Monday, 13 March, 2006.

 

For more information, contact our press team: Jacqui Bealing or Maggie Clune, 01273 678888. Email: press@sussex.ac.uk

 

 

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