Memorandum submitted by the Society for
SGM is a learned society and a registered charity
with over 5,000 members worldwide. The Society provides a common
meeting ground for scientists working in fields with applications
in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals,
agriculture, food, and the environment. SGM is committed to representing
the science and profession of microbiology to government, the
media and the general public; supporting microbiology education
at all levels; and encouraging the uptake of careers in microbiology.
The Follet committee has done an excellent job
in persuading OST of the need to raise the stipend of PhD studentships,
and this increase is long overdue. Of course it would be even
better to see the increases appear earlier.
The UK Life Services Committee (of which the
SGM is a member) has called for the number of Life Science PhD
places to be reduced. There is now serious discussion at MRC level
about four-year studentships linked to MRes courses, and this
has also been debated at BBSRC. If this happens then inevitably
the number of studentships available will fall and there is a
danger that these will be focussed in the major research centres
only! It must be determined whether it is solely the low stipend
that is failing to attract PhD students. Lower numbers of available
studentships may result in perceptions among students that research
career opportunities will be confined to the elite.
The further £1 billion funding for infrastructure
is very welcome but still falls short of fully restructuring British
Science. SGM Council noted that a lot of money was wasted by Universities
in getting JIF bids together that were ultimately unsuccessful,
eg surveying, planning permission etc. This also takes up a lot
of academic and administrative staff time. A pre-screening step,
so that only proposals that get through the first stage are invited
for the full proposal, could save universities money.
The budget identified three key areas of research:
genomics, e-science and basic technology. Microbiology is a key
subject in all three, to varying degrees, and the SGM welcomes
government investment in them. Cross council initiatives and co-ordinated
programmes encourage idea generation.
The Society was surprised that more emphasis
was not given to environmental science, in particular the impact
of environmental microbiology. We recognise that this falls mainly
within the NERC's remit. However, subjects such bioremediation
should be considered as part of a cross-council programme, and
will require collaboration between microbiologists, engineers,
ecologists, chemists etc.
Separate biological science departments, such
as microbiology departments, are becoming a thing of the past,
and most viable research groups are now in centres, institutes
or laboratories. Although this does not compromise applications
for funding, indeed grants are more likely to be awarded to multidisciplinary
"centres of excellence"; problems may arise in the Research
Assessment Exercise due to blurring of university department boundaries.
For example the breadth of microbiological research may mean that
it is evaluated in the biological sciences, agriculture or medical
units of assessment. There is a belief that this could lead to
differing RAE scores depending on the unit of assessment involved,
and a need to ensure that interdisciplinary work is assessed.
The Office of Science and Technology initiatives
to communicate with the public must involve learned societies
to a greater extent. Societies such as the SGM have many resources
available to inform the public. The SGM runs workshops and produces
information packs for teachers; produces posters and leaflets
for schools; and organises lectures and demonstrations. SGM encourages
young people to take up a career in microbiology by distributing
literature to schools and colleges, attending careers events and
promoting the subject in the media.
The research council budgets give no idea of
the funding split between universities and institutes.
It is unclear how increases in the science budget
will reflect on individual Government department R&D budgets.
For example, in the last spending review MAFF's budget actually
fell. It is important that departmental R&D spending is maintained.
10 January 2001