The Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Dr Robert Parker, has described the decision to close the Chemistry Department at Bangor University as “extremely disappointing”.
Bangor University confirmed the closure last week, blaming a reduction in student numbers and the need to save money. The move will see Bangor stop offering all undergraduate and postgraduate chemistry degrees including MChem and BSc (Hons) – currently the only one that can be partly taken in Welsh – and cease research activities. The jobs of 18 staff members – 15 academic and three technical – are likely to be lost.
Although current students will be able to continue to the end of their course, no new students will be admitted for the next academic year and there will be a ‘phased reduction’ of staff over a three-year period as the remaining students finish their courses and research activities ceased.
A business case document said the closure would save the university more than £1.4 million over three years, although £900,000 of income would be lost. It said it would be better to discontinue chemistry than try and make cuts across the board in its College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, which could ‘weaken areas of strength’.
The document stated that the university has been struggling to recruit chemistry students, possibly due to competition with Russell Group universities in England where caps on student recruitment have been removed. Less drastic measures, such as retaining a small number of teaching staff to keep the chemistry BSc course going with fewer students, had been considered but were rejected.
A statement from Bangor University read: “Bangor University, like many in the UK higher education sector, is facing a challenging financial landscape as a result of many factors including intense competition both at home and internationally, and a substantial demographic downturn in the 18-20 year old population in the UK.
“To ensure the long-term financial health of the institution, Bangor University’s Council approved a number of business cases which examined options to make savings. A formal period of consultation followed from December 2018 until February 2019, and the responses submitted have been carefully considered.
“One area under consideration has been the future of Chemistry degrees at the university. There has been a decline in the number of students studying Chemistry, with only 23 first year students currently enrolled on the undergraduate Chemistry courses compared to 61 in 2015/16.
“Following the consultation and after careful consideration of the submitted responses, Bangor University has reluctantly taken the difficult decision to discontinue Chemistry degrees. This means that no new students will be enrolled on Chemistry programmes for the 2019/20 academic year, however existing students have been assured that they will be able to complete their studies and they will be able to graduate with the degree on which they are currently enrolled.”
Dr Parker said: “This is extremely disappointing news for chemistry students in Wales and will no doubt be distressing for our colleagues and members.
“Chemistry is extremely important to the UK economy and the pipeline of talent and skills from universities such as Bangor underpins our world-leading position in science and innovation.
“This is a significant setback for those who were hoping to study chemistry in the medium of Welsh, and particularly those who have an ambition to teach chemistry in Wales.”
The university also confirmed that decisions have been made on the business cases for Finance & RIIO, Corporate Services, and the Schools of Education and Human Development, Medical Sciences, Health Sciences, and Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences. A statement read: “There will be some impact on the staffing of these areas, and details are being shared with the affected staff.”