Memorandum submitted by Dr Jeff Atherton,
University of Nottingham (D 25)
You asked for my views of horticultural research
in the UK and HRI's place in it. As you may know, I am soon to
leave Nottingham for a Chair in Horticulture overseas but I am
pleased to be able to offer your committee some comments. These
are as follows:
The main organisations involved in
horticultural research in the UK are HRI, ADAS, PGRO, Universities
offering degrees in horticulture (Nottingham, Reading, Wye), some
colleges (Writtle, Seale Hayne, Greenwich etc) and other universities
with plant science or environmental science degrees sometimes
get involved with specific aspects of horticulture (eg Lancaster,
Manchester, Durham, Leeds etc).
Funding to support research comes
mainly from MAFF, BBSRC, NERC, HDC, EU and private contracts with
industry. In the universities, fees paid by overseas postgraduate
research students are very significant in maintaining our workit
has been extremely difficult and time consuming for us to obtain
support from any of the bodies named earlier.
HRI is by far the largest unit involved.
It attracts, or else has channelled to it, most of the available
funding. I read somewhere that they receive 80 per cent of the
funding available for horticulture. With its full time research
mission, it is able to concentrate resources on securing this
funding through representatives on the controlling committees.
The other organisations have suffered considerably over the past
15 years through HRI monopolising the funding.
Horticultural research ranges from
fundamental science to practical problem solving. HRI has involved
itself with the entire range and as a result sometimes fails to
satisfy all its customers. When applied research and all development
work was handled by the regional experimental horticulture stations
and the more fundamental studies were pursued by the Universities
and the East Malling, Wellesbourne and Littlehampton sites of
what was to become HRI, it was easier to manage. The forced marriage
of the stations with the main HRI sites has been unhappy. The
fundamental scientists tend to be rather arrogant and dismissive
of applied and developmental work whilst the more practical scientists
sometimes fail to see the point of basic science in a Horticultural
Research institution. The whole business has been poorly managed.
If the UK wants proper graduates
in horticulture, rather than relabelled HNDs, it must ensure that
they are educated in an environment of active scholarship and
research. That environment can only be created if sufficient funding
is made available. A radical solution would be to close HRI entirely,
sell its sites and reallocate its staff, resources and funding
to interested universities!
I hope this adds something to the debate.
27 November 2000