How many chemistry departments do we need?

A: We need enough chemistry departments to meet the demands of both students and all the varied employers of chemists. Ideally, every university should have an adequate number of chemists on site to service other degree courses. However, the increasingly multi-disciplinary nature of science requires a re-configuration of traditional departments. 

Brian Iddon, Labour MP

A: We need enough to teach the best young scientists in the country, to lead research in the chemical sciences and to spread the word about the value of the field to society - with a geographical spread and diversity of mission from research-led to outreach-driven. 

Prof. Guy Orpen, University of Bristol

A: How long is a piece of string and what sort of string are you interested in? Chemistry departments are not homogeneous entities. There are now chemists running chemistry courses without being in ’chemistry departments’. There are departments who earn most of their income from education and training. There are Departments who generate most of their income from research. We could further sub-divide into the type of training and the type of research.

I would guess that it is unwise to lump such different animals together and then work out a number. There has been no national, strategic thought applied to the balance and volume of chemistry activity that we need. Instead each University makes decisions on a local scale in response to ill-determined external forces. We need to determine how many research intensive departments are needed to make an impact on the international stage. Here I would say that we need as many as we can fund properly and more than an elite ’Premiership’. A small number of well-funded elite departments is not enough and many poorly-funded departments is a disaster. At a rough estimate - 20 such departments might be reasonable.

Prof. Richard Templer, Imperial College London