Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-198)
DR RITA GARDNER AND MR ELLIOT ROBERTSON
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
180. Dr Gardner, you have said that you would like some government funding and I was wondering what you would do with the money?
(Dr Gardner) What we would do with the money?
(Dr Gardner) I would like to write to you about this afterwards, if I may, but speaking at the moment. We would be keen to widen the way in which the outputs are disseminated from our Society and Environment Forum programme, for example, which brings together academics, those from Government, NGOs and others at chief executive or just below level to debate issues of our time. For example, we have held meetings on the Urban White Paper, on redeveloping the coalfield areas, on air transport, so they are policy issues of our time. I think there is much to be gained there for improved dissemination of the outputs from those and possibly having the facility to hold some of those meetings not just in London but on a more regional basis around the country. So the funding would be in a sense to support a growth of that programme and it has been welcomed, as I say, by a number of government departments and many agencies as well, to support the dissemination of outputs from that programme, that is one area. The second area is at the moment we have funding from the Mercers Company to do a pilot project which is making geographically related information, it is called Geography in the News. Geography in the News is there to deliver balanced, up-to-date knowledge. At the moment it is geared towards teachers of 14 to 19 age range. It is taking up to date knowledge from the research community and presenting it in a multi-media way that is relevant to teachers. In an era where we have lost, for example, the stature perhaps of some of the television reporting, perhaps sometimes programmes such as used to be Panorama, we would like to take that programme and extend it from teachers into a muchwider public understanding on the Internet of issues of our time which have a geographical perspective. Geography, as you know, is very much concerned with the interaction between people and their environment and understanding physical processes and social processes associated with that interaction.
182. You are talking about specific projects.
(Dr Gardner) That is one way. I thought you were asking me about specific projects.
183. That is what I want.
(Dr Gardner) Yes.
184. My point is the money you would envisage Government giving you, you describe very nicely, it would be for specific projects rather than a bucketful of money and the Government saying "Here you are, have this and there are no strings attached"?
(Dr Gardner) In our institution, and I cannot talk for others, we have limited resources and we are highly accountable through a strategic plan and an annual implementation as to how those resources are spent. I think one would normally in this day and age expect resources to be associated with clearly defined areas of activity and outputs from those. To have a sum of money that in a sense just contributes to a core funding in our case, because of what we do, whilst it would be very nice I think is probably unrealistic.
185. Can I draw you a little bit on a previous set of questions. I want to try and get you to commit yourself a little bit more on a specific area of funding disparity. In particular I wonder if you may comment on the disparity between the funding given to the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, particularly in relation to the outputs that they produce?
(Dr Gardner) I am sorry. I really do not feel I know either of them sufficiently well to comment effectively.
186. You did say in your evidence that the Royal Geographical Society " . . . would greatly welcome a more equitable distribution of government funds to learned societies".
(Dr Gardner) Yes, I did indeed.
187. You have laid yourself open to the question.
(Dr Gardner) I have to some degree and in my first answers here this afternoon I suggested that we would indeed welcome a bigger pot of funding and a more equitable distribution across that bigger pot. I really do not have the detailed informationand I do not think I see it as my jobto be able to comment on the detailed finances.
188. To have made that statement you must have had a fair idea about the distribution of funding between the learned societies and their outputs.
(Dr Gardner) I have, as indeed most people would, a broad understanding of the level of funding across the institutions which are being funded. I do not have specific knowledge of the particular allocations of certain amounts of funds to certain activities. In terms of the broad levels of funding of organisations, yes.
189. Mine is a question about Research Fellow schemes in geography. If the Government were to find the money to fund one, would you be willing and able to implement it?
(Dr Gardner) Currently we run a grants programme which administers of the order of between £100,000 and £150,000 a year so we have the infrastructure to manage grants and associated peer reviewing processes linked to those. In a theoretical sense, yes we would have the infrastructure and capability. Also, because of our membership, we draw very widely on the academic community in geography and the capacity would be there to administer that. I think one would need to look very carefully to ensure that Fellowship schemes complement existing programmes and other schemes associated with generating research knowledge. I think it comes back to the point perhaps that the Computer Society were making, the Fellowship schemes, we would see would need to be highly complementary and not covered at the moment by funding which would exist through other organisations, whether that is funding through Royal Society, funding through some of the Research Councils and so on.
190. Fundamentally you are saying it is a good idea and it is something that you would be willing and able to operate?
(Dr Gardner) In a vacuum, yes, it is a good idea and it is something we would be willing and able to operate. We would be willing, also, to work with partners who are operating those to provide our geographical knowledge and expertise in that way. I would be delighted if extra funds were available by the way.
191. The last question, because again we have to move on, you understand, and thank you for your frankness. You took over as the UK representation on the International Geographical Union from the Royal Society in the year 2000.
(Dr Gardner) Yes.
192. Do you pay the subscription in full? Do you receive any government money to pay that subscription?
(Dr Gardner) We have an arrangement with the Royal Society whereby the Society pays 51 per cent and the Royal Society pays 49 per cent if I am correct.
193. That is right.
(Dr Gardner) It started off on a split of 15:85 per cent and then went to 25:75 and then to 59:41 over a period of three years.
194. Has the Royal Society had its funding reduced to allow for that?
(Dr Gardner) Sorry?
195. The fact you have taken over the funding, did you pinch some of their money for the funding, as it were, from the Government?
(Dr Gardner) No. For our 51 per cent share, it has come out of our funds that we raise.
196. Could I pose the same question, Chairman, as I posed to the last Society and ask you about the health of your general subject area and what are the big issues your Council discuss and have you got any concerns for the future? For example, universities' geography departments, that is a concern of mine.
(Dr Gardner) Yes, of course, we would not be doing our job, perhaps if we did not have concerns. The big issues that we have at the moment are a large area of making increasingly better use of our expertise, that is the knowledge within our members and Fellows, and also our collections. With a £6.7 million project to open our archives to the world, put them on the Internet and enhance them educationally, just managing that over the next two years is quite a major project. Secondly, we are concerned to ensure that geographical expertise is brought increasingly into evidence based policy. We have a number of geographers around the country of considerable note, some indeed are working well within policy areas but there are others, and other research that could be brought more to the fore. The third area is that of restructuring post the research assessment exercise which you referred to. We have just been discussing that today in fact in the Society, we had a meeting on that. We have seen geography departments reduced in terms of numbers by about 20 per cent but at the same time we have seen the under graduate intake go up. What we are seeing very much is a change in distribution within rather than a reduction in the standing of the subject outside. We are keen, obviously, to monitor that and to see how that works through to work with the subject. The fourth areaand I have only five in case your eyes are starting to glaze overis in terms of professional standards. We were awarded by the Privy Council last year the ability to implement a chartered geographer and raising the professional profile and standard for chartered geographer, and that is an issue for us. We do that well. Lastly, of course, there is the Education Bill which is currently going through Parliament at the moment. We welcome greatly widened access at Key Stage 4, very good. We would like to see some changes particularly but entitlement to access to a humanities subject, we would like to see entitlement to access to history and geography, not allowing schools simply to teach either history after the age of 14 or geography.
197. I have a 14 year old girl who has just had to make that difficult decision so I sympathise on that.
(Dr Gardner) Yes.
198. I would just like to follow up on that last point about school education. The geography syllabus seems to be one that has changed considerably over recent years in scope and its method of teaching. Do you formally as a Society has an input into curriculum development and if not is this something you should have?
(Dr Gardner) We do. We are part of the QCA working party. They are undertaking a review at the moment on the geography curriculum. We have convened the review for the 14 to 19 age range, bringing together expertise from amongst our fellows and across the discipline. We have also a regular liaison meeting with DfES, twice yearly, when we can raise those issues. We co-ordinated and facilitated in terms of higher education the benchmarking standard for geography across the higher education community. We have worked very closely with QAA and with HEFCE and others, we have and we continue to do so.
Chairman: Thank you ever so much indeed for taking the time to come and answer our questions. Our report will come out in the fullness of time and if there is anything you do want to write to us, as you indicated you might, please do so. Thank you very much.