The future of the chemistry department at the University of Sussex, UK, has once again come under threat

The future of the chemistry department at the University of Sussex, UK, has once again come under threat, this time due to redundancies threatening its ability to teach degree courses.

The department, which topped The Guardian’s 2010 university league table for chemistry, is set to lose some 40 per cent of its faculty, according to Phil Parsons, head of organic chemistry at Sussex. He claims the university is making five lecturers redundant, and a further two have resigned in protest. 

In 2006, a rousing campaign by students and faculty caused the university to drop its plans to axe the chemistry department, but that reprieve could be short-lived as the cost-cutting measures introduced across the whole of the university look set to threaten the department’s ability to teach degree courses.

Rob Read, the university’s director of communications, told Chemistry World that due to budgetary constraints the school of life sciences, which the chemistry department is part of, needs to cut its 80-member faculty by around 30 per cent.

However, he was keen to stress that, despite any cuts, ’the university will maintain its current successful chemistry teaching programmes, and will introduce new medicinal chemistry MChem and drug discovery MSc programmes’.

Read says the school of life sciences is in the process of recruiting two new members of staff to lead the drug discovery and medicinal chemistry programmes. But he did caution that ’in order to make the activities financially sustainable, the size of the school overall will be reduced in the short-term, with the intention to grow in successful existing and new areas over time’.

But Parsons isn’t convinced that the department will manage to remain viable in the short-term. ’We’ve lost seven chemists out of a faculty of 17 and even if they do recruit two new members of staff, they won’t get this done by the start of the new academic year - and those of us that are left can’t cover all the courses with our colleagues gone,’ he says.

Read has disputed Parsons claims, and has told Chemistry World that the university expects six members of staff to leave and that two professorial appointments will be made. He also says the university plans to admit 40 undergraduate students to the department next year (the same number as last year) and that ’if’any additional teaching requirements are needed during the transition to the new staffing levels the university has specifically agreed to make additional resources available to support the school’.

However, Parsons feels those resources may be ’too little, too late,’ and that ’with only two members of faculty in the organic chemistry department, clearly we can no longer deliver a chemistry degree’.   

Matt Wilkinson