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To encourage new answers, I will award the bounty to any new answer. (e.g. answer and you will get the bounty) I understand this question is difficult to tackle and do appreciate all new insights.

According to this UK report:

There were 48 UK institutions offering physics degrees in 2005. This is 31 fewer than there were in 1994.

Since 1996 26 universities have ceased to offer chemistry degrees.

5 [mathematics departments] have closed since 1999.

While the report may be from 2007, this is still a current issue. The Royal Society for Chemistry has reported on a proposal to close the chemistry department at Bangor University. Apparently, Bangor Needs Chem.

Additionally, Bangor University no longer has a mathematics department (source). Also from Bangor University, the Computer Systems Engineering major states:

This degree has been designed especially for candidates without the usual qualifications in Mathematics and Physics to be able to pursue their interest in electronics and computer science to degree level.

Looking specifically at the words "without the usual qualifications in Mathematics," doesn't this speak negatively to the reputation of the college and its graduates? Is there a benefit (e.g. and in addition to financial) to closing STEM departments?

In summary, what are the effects (both positive and negative) of closing STEM departments? It is preferable if answers draw upon both theory (research studies, government reports, etc.) and practice (historical studies, your original research on past events and effects).

While the examples are from the UK, the question is about the effects of closing STEM departments in general and not specifically in the UK.

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    I will be starting a 100 rep bounty if a comprehensive answer arises. Don't be afraid to downvote and please suggest improvements! Thanks! – Barry Harrison Apr 7 '19 at 22:57
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    I admit ignorance here as an American, but do UK universities have some rough equivalent to the idea of a service department? In the US, when we say you close a department, it implies that not only are the degree programs not offered, but that the department doesn't even offer classes — but since everyone needs math classes, the risk of a math closure is basically 0, but without a math degree (or minimal people in its programs), we call it a service department. – user0721090601 Apr 8 '19 at 0:17
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    @guifa By closing departments, it means that the department doesn't exist at all. For example, search "Mathematics" and "Bangor University, Wales." What search results do you get? Supposedly, the math department at Bangor is now the Mathematics Division in the School of Informatics. I can neither confirm nor deny this after a lengthy search. – Barry Harrison Apr 8 '19 at 0:32
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    @BarryHarrison globally CS has been on an upward trend for the past 30 or 40 years, but you're right this doesn't answer the question. I'm not sure that you can get a satisfactory answer though, since this kind of impact is going to be observable in the long term. It would also be interesting to see whether the remaining chemistry departments tend to grow bigger, (e.g. more funding, staff, equipment): is it possible that the evolution of the field requires such economies of scale? – Erwan Apr 8 '19 at 0:45
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    @BarryHarrison May I ask whether you are from the UK or Europe? UK degrees tend to be very focused versus, say, USA degrees, even at the bachelor's level. I checked a few other STEM departments at Bangor...no math beyond "math/stats for subject" were listed. I studied 2nd yr Physics in 1986-87 there. There was no maths courses required. I did have to attend a vector calculus module because I hadn't had it yet in my first 2 USA years. I think other departments will just figure out how to teach the bare minimum they think their students need. – mkennedy Apr 8 '19 at 23:39
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I can't give you a 100% answer (your question is kind of too wide) but I will try to give you some ideas:

  • The UK evaluates all departments of universities and research institutes on a regular basis by a so-called Research Excellence Framework (REF). A bad REF evaluation might force a university to shut down a department. This is because universities are only allowed to teach a subject if they also do well received research in this field. Similar evaluation evaluations might be in place in other countries.
  • It might be a financial issue of why a department shuts down. Too few students and too high costs (in STEM there are often not enough good students applying)
  • "without the usual qualifications in Mathematics" I would not see this necessarily as a negative point. If you allow people with different backgrounds into a degree you might create a cohort of interdisciplinary graduates that might be in demand in industry. (They might not be competitive with e.g. pure math graduates but how many people really work in pure math later?) But it might also be due to the previous point that not enough people apply with a strong enough math background.
  • One more possible reason is that the university is not able to hire/hold sufficient professors in STEM fields as the pay in industry is usually much better and people with strong technical background might be aggressively recruited away.

Impacts:

  • It is difficult so say what the impacts are as they are university specific but some degrees will not be offered anymore and/or they get external lecturers for e.g. math courses in non-STEM-degrees.
  • On a whole population level: Fewer people with STEM degrees means fewer qualified workers
  • On the positive side: The university might have free-up resources in order to persue other fields more intensively - but that is more a strategic decision.
  • Thanks for the answer! It sort of addresses why departments close, but maybe not what happens after they do (the latter is the question). Could you propose an edit to the question to make it more answerable (while keeping the original goal in mind)? – Barry Harrison Apr 9 '19 at 21:13
  • RE "without the usual qualifications in Mathematics": Won't it show a lack of qualification? – Barry Harrison Apr 9 '19 at 21:14
  • I have added a little bit but I am not quite sure what you mean by "impacts" as they can be manifold – lordy Apr 10 '19 at 7:09
  • Thanks for the additions. – Barry Harrison Apr 10 '19 at 18:33
  • lordy, When the bounty period ends, would you recommend I award this answer or the other answer? – Barry Harrison Apr 17 '19 at 2:25
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I can't speak to the wider effects of closing STEM departments, but will look at the specifics of this Bangor University example. Where it says "without the usual qualifications in Mathematics", this refers to the entry qualification; generally in the UK, entrants to universities will have studied 3 or 4 A-Levels in subjects related to the subject they wish to study at university. For instance, I studied physics, mathematics and history at A-Level, and went on to study physics at university. For a course in Computer Systems Engineering at most UK universities, an A-Level in mathematics would usually be a prerequisite, but this is not the case at Bangor University.

This is not to say that the undergraduate students won't study mathematics; if you look at the modules of the degree course, they will take three mathematics modules in the first year, and another in the second. These modules would usually be taught by academics in the department the course is in, so Engineering in this case. My own undergraduate physics degree had two mathematics modules taught by academics from the Physics department - no mathematicians involved!

So the closure of a department would generally have little or no effect, from an academic point of view, on students from other departments in the university.

(When I say UK here, in reference to A-Levels, I mean England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The system in Scotland is slightly different.)

  • Emma, When the bounty period ends, would you recommend I award this answer or the other answer? – Barry Harrison Apr 17 '19 at 2:25
  • @BarryHarrison I agree with what lordy said in the other comment about choosing what you think is the more complete answer. That being said, hhile the bounty would be appreciated given I'm just starting out on AcademiaSE, I think that lordy's answer covers wider parts of the background and impact than mine. – Emma Apr 17 '19 at 12:01
  • Emma, OK, I will award the bounty to lordy then. – Barry Harrison Apr 17 '19 at 16:18

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