Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers (IBG))


  1.1  The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is the learned society and professional body for the science of geography and geographers. It is a charity and thus exists to support the public. Almost all its activities are available to the public.

  1.2  The Society was established in 1830 for "the advancement of geographical science". The Society has six strategic aims;

    —  stimulate and support geographical research in the UK and overseas;

    —  promote and strengthen the value of geography in formal education and life long learning;

    —  acquire, hold and disseminate geographical information;

    —  encourage a wider public interest, understanding and enjoyment of geography;

    —  advise governments and other agencies on geographical issues;

    —  ensure the continuing vigour of the Society and its Fellowship.

  1.3  Geography is the integrated study of the earth's landscapes, environments and societies, set within the context of places and regions. It provides the much-needed capacity to understand the interactions between society and environment.

  1.4  The fourth and fifth strategic aims include the communication of geographical science to the public and the provision of geographical advice to government.

  1.5  In general, the Society supports over 20 research groups at the forefront of generating new knowledge; promotes geography within the National Curriculum; produces scholarly publications; provides training, including continuing professional development; offers a professional "chartered status" recognition; empowers scholars, young people and teachers through grant giving; presents a "public understanding" national lecture series; provides fora for discussion, and dissemination via its conference programmes and briefing papers; has a significant advisory role; and provides information through its large map collection, library, and picture library.

  1.6  The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) achieves this with no financial support from government. The turnover of approximately £3,000,000 required to support its core charitable activities is raised each year from a combination of sources. These include members' subscriptions, enterprise activities, corporate support, publishing and conference income, and small returns on investments.

  1.7  The Society is highly active and has a strategy for further development. It would greatly welcome a more equitable distribution of government funds to learned societies, recognising the public and government benefit that comes from the learned societies as a whole rather than the benefits that accrue from just one or two of them.

  1.8  In relation to providing scientific advice and in communicating science to the public, the Society delivered the following activities in the year 2001:

  1.8.1  Organised over 160 events in London and the regions, including:

    —  lectures directly communicating to the public;

    —  conferences for dissemination and discussion of developments in geography and geographical issues relevant to policy; and

    —  continuing professional development activities to improve the ability of teachers to disseminate up to date information more effectively.

  1.8.2  Responsed to 29 calls for evidence and consultations on matters of education and research. Most consultations involved providing advice to various Government departments and agencies, including the Department for Education and Skills, Quality Assurance Agency, Teacher Training Agency, Becta, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, ESRC, NERC, English Nature, Office of Science & Technology, and the Institute of Learning & Teaching.

  1.8.3  Facilitated the annual geographers' conference, part of which communicated geographical research and issues to the public, producing 48 stories in the national press in four days, and a wide range of other media output including radio and television.

  1.8.4  Held a series of key evening discussions bringing together senior players in policy, NGOs, government, research and business and industry as part of the Society's "Environment and Society Forum". This contributes insight to social, economic and environmental challenges facing Britain and the world, and facilitates dialogue and networking. Several government departments and agencies have been closely involved in these events, including DfES, DfID, DLTR, and QCA. Summary statements are widely distributed after the event. Recent topics (2000-01) have included flooding, air transport, rural land use, regenerating Britain's coalfields, managing water resources, tourism and sustainable waste management.

  1.8.5  The Society's extensive map resources, originally opened to the public by means of government funding in 1859, assisted the Defence Geographical Information Agency and the US Corps of Engineers on matters relating to Afghanistan, in addition to other "regular" enquiries from the Foreign Office. Sadly this annual grant of £54,000, that was designed primarily to provide access for the general public to these scientific resources and information, was withdrawn in the year 2000. The library, manuscript and picture resources were also widely used in scientific publishing.

  1.8.6  Established funding for three major projects to improve communication of information to the public. This includes an internet information and resources project "Geography in the news" (£150,000); a Lottery Funded project to "Unlock the Society's Archives" by improving public access on site and on the internet (£6.7 million), and refurbishing the Society's lecture theatre (£1.7 million).

  1.8.7  The Society acted as the UK national body for the International Geographical Union, having taken over this responsibility from the Royal Society in the year 2000.

April 2002

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