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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 01:23 GMT
Science closures 'medical threat'
researcher using microscope
The BMA says medicine relies on integrated research
The future of medicine in the UK is at risk due to the closure of university science departments, doctors say.

The British Medical Association said medical breakthroughs often flowed from collaboration between departments.

Three universities have recently axed chemistry courses and the BMA says further closures would mean research and development would be under threat.

Meanwhile, a Lib Dem MP has tabled a Commons motion calling for a government review of higher education funding.

Funding reductions

This week Exeter University confirmed it was to close its chemistry department.

Kent and Queen Mary London have also recently ended chemistry courses, with Anglia Polytechnic University planning to do so.

Government policy since the last higher education Research Assessment Exercise has meant large reductions in funding for all but the highest two ratings of research departments.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said an associated problem was that academics had to focus more on research, which put a strain on their availability for teaching.

The head of the BMA's medical academics committee, Professor Michael Rees, said: "It is a bleak day for universities and students alike to see science subjects being withdrawn wholesale.

"Medicine in particular relies on integrated work across the sciences. If this trend of closures continues, it will cut off access to the range of knowledge vital for groundbreaking medical research."

Teacher shortage

Also, he said, chemistry A-level was still a requirement for most medical schools and the closures could lead to a shortage of chemistry teachers.

"If the UK is to stay a world leader in medicine, cutting university departments is not the way to do it. The government must take action now."

The BMA is backing the Commons early day motion from Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said the government would spend more than 2bn more next year on higher education than three years ago.

He said: "We have also targeted extra resources specifically for science and research."

This showed the government was committed to science and research, he said, adding that departmental closures were a matter for universities themselves.

However he said ministers had asked the Higher Education Funding Council For England to consider a list of "subjects of strategic national importance" and report on whether any needed extra protection.

Why universities are closing departments

University confirms subject cuts
20 Dec 04 |  Education
Fewer chemistry courses urged
03 Dec 04 |  Education
Clarke calls for degree safeguards
01 Dec 04 |  Education
Dons face chill winds of change
11 Dec 04 |  Education

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