Degrees in complementary medical therapies are being cut from universities in the wake of rising tuition fees, a decline in applications and campaigns by scientists.
From this year, it will no longer be possible to study homoeopathy to degree level in a British university.
The number of bachelor and masters degrees in subjects such as reflexology, aromatherapy, acupuncture and homoeopathy has halved since 2007, from more than 40 to 21. Many of the surviving courses are under review.
In a shrinking job market, prospective students are returning to “traditional” degrees such as physics and chemistry.
Derby University has confirmed that this year its complementary medicine department is to be scrapped. The University of Westminster, which used to be the leading provider of complementary medicine degrees, is to drop nearly all of its courses for this year after applications dropped by half.
Five years ago, Westminster offered 14 BSc degrees in seven types of complementary medicine. Students this year will be offered four degrees in two subjects — acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Although the university says it remains “fully committed to excellence in complementary medicine” The Daily Telegraph understands that the remaining courses are under review and may soon be cut. This follows a spate of closures in the past two years after mounting pressure from scientists and doctors, who are furious that taxpayers’ money is being spent on teaching students about crystal-therapies and “energy fields”.
The closures are partly the result of a campaign led by Dr David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, and the rationalist pressure group Sense about Science. In 2007, when alternative medicine was highly popular, 16 state-funded degree-awarding institutions were offering 42 fully accredited BSc/BA courses in 12 non-evidence-based forms of medicine. These included ayurveda, naturopathy, therapeutic massage and homoeopathy.
Dr Colquhoun said: “Universities are using shocking teaching, like suggesting that amethysts emit high 'yin energy’.”
Only the medicines and therapies that are backed by some form of clinical evidence of efficacy, albeit controversial, remain in any number as degree-level subjects, most notably acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
In 1992, John Major’s administration created 66 universities which were able to award complementary medicine degrees.
Their popularity was helped by the support of the Prince of Wales, who campaigned to enhance the status of alternative medicine in the NHS.