Memorandum from the School of Ocean and
Earth Science, University of Southampton
The School undertakes teaching and research
training in geology and in all fields of marine science. An RAE
2001 Grade 5 department, we are based at the Southampton Oceanography
Centre, Europe's largest centre for research and education in
ocean and earth science and currently have 500 undergraduate students,
170 postgraduates with 46 academic staff and 80 research and support
staff. Oceanography involves the application of the core disciplines
of physics, chemistry and biology to the marine environment. Our
students must learn these subjects through a balanced education
involving an appropriate mix of theory, laboratory experiment
and practical work and field work on land and at sea. Our graduates
form a key pool of trained scientists with expertise in the marine
environment ranging from our estuaries and coasts, coastal seas
and fisheries, to the open ocean that is a key component of our
climate system and the deep sea floor. (Two of our staff are currently
with HMS Scott leading the survey of the seabed rupture caused
by the Indonesian Earthquake).
While a letter from the Russell Group Vice-Chancellors
to your Committee deals with many of the strategic issues, we
wish to address the issue that has put the most recent and immediate
financial pressure on science subjects, the change in the HEFCE
The implications for University science teaching
of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the
teaching funding formula.
The change in HEFCE's relative weighting of
laboratory subjects to classroom subjects, last year, from 2 to
1.7 has had a serious effect on our financial sustainability.
Our situation is different from Chemistry and Physics departments
in that we have buoyant undergraduate student numbers (relatively
fewer University Departments teach marine science and there is
a "Jacques Cousteau" effect in attracting recruits).
Nevertheless, with the reduction in funding that the weighting
change has brought, we are now struggling to make ends meet. We
cannot compromise the delivery of our teaching, and would be unable
to do so since our degrees are accredited by professional bodies
who rightly monitor the quality and appropriateness of our programmes.
For example, training students to sample and monitor pollution
in estuaries involves sampling from inshore vessels and chemical
analysis with expensive equipment housed in "clean"
laboratories. The enforced solution therefore, has been to continue
with student:staff ratios that are unsustainably high for a research-led
University delivering research-led education. The upshot is a
severe and unsustainable pressure on existing staff.
We believe that the decision to reduce the relative
resource weighting for laboratory (Band B) subjects before implementing
the review of the full costs of teaching using the TRAC methodology
has significantly increased the pressures on science and engineering
subjects all of which depend on laboratory training and some of
which (like oceanography, ecology and geology) also depend on
The extent of Government intervention should
include an urgent implementation of a TRAC methodology review
of the true costs of teaching these subjects at sustainable levels
of student numbers.