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Policy and funding

The Finances of Chemistry and Physics Departments in UK Universities: Third Review

This study is the third review of the finances of UK university chemistry and physics departments, commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics. The aim was to revisit the financial position of chemistry and physics departments against a backdrop of changes to public funding arrangements, most notably the new tuition fee regime (of up to £9,000) for English universities introduced from September 2012.


Executive summary to the report

This research is based on 2012/13 data from a sample of chemistry and physics departments. The previous report was published in 2010 and based on 2007/08 data; comparisons below refer to the 2010 report.

The headline financial position is little improved for chemistry departments and has deteriorated for physics since 2007/08, and a number of factors in the wider policy and funding landscape mean that the departments’ ability to provide world-class research and teaching may be affected.

Chemistry and physics departments are strategically important. They make an essential contribution to our economy and wider society. They perform world-leading research, deliver world-class education and training, and maintain strong links to local, national and international businesses. It is essential that appropriate investment is made to support and sustain them.

The study demonstrates that:

  • numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate research students have increased significantly
  • comparing the income generated and Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC)- derived costs for each activity, most UK university chemistry and physics departments continue to run deficits in their two main activities of teaching and research, and operate at a substantial deficit overall
  • for the 10 chemistry and 10 physics departments for which full income and TRAC-derived cost data were available, the overall deficits were 20.6% and 18.8% of income, respectively
  • early signs suggest that, in England, both chemistry and physics are withstanding the perturbations caused by the introduction of the new maximum tuition fees, but this should be monitored
  • chemistry and physics departments rely heavily on public sources of funding for teaching and research, making them particularly sensitive to changes in public funding regimes
  • the additional funding English departments receive from HEFCE for strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) is vital to help improve their financial position; however, since the the SIVS funding is capped, the amount of funding departments receive per student has been eroded as student numbers have increased
  • departments in the sample from outside England are also in deficit, particularly since they have not benefited from the increased teaching income generated by the introduction of the higher tuition fees charged in England