Memorandum from the Institute of Biology
1. The Institute of Biology (IOB) is the
independent and charitable body charged by Royal Charter to further
the study and application of the UK's biology and allied biosciences.
It has 14,000 members and over 45 specialist learned Affiliated
Societies (see www.iob.org). The IOB is a member society of the
Biosciences Federation. The IOB contributed to, and fully supports
the Biosciences Federation's response to this inquiry. However,
we would like some additional relevant points to be considered
regarding the provision of applied sciences in HE institutions.
2. HEFCE research funding formulae rate
research primarily on the basis of the individual's grant income,
and the impact factor of the journals in which they are published.
Research grant income is determined by the policy of the funding
bodies and their wealth. Applied areas of biology such as agriculture,
horticulture and ecology are often expensive both in terms of
research and teaching costs and so are vulnerable to closure for
strategic reasons. Additionally, applied biology research tends
to be published in specialist journals that have a low impact
factor. If the viability of science departments is based on publication
impact factors and grant incomes, funding will be determined by
factors unrelated to the quality of the research.
3. In applied "whole organism"
and field-based disciplines such as agriculture, environmental
science and forestry, student numbers have been declining for
the past decade. Add to this the cost of animal husbandry and
expensive machinery. This has reduced the viability of such courses
and has led to closures of entire departments in these disciplines.
The capacity of the UK to turn basic scientific discoveries into
practical and environmentally sustainable processes, and to fulfil
its commitment towards climate change is in jeopardy. These disciplines
must be strengthened by subsidising student fees and/or selective
funding of universities.
4. There is a very real danger that many
of the applied biosciences will only exist within predominantly
single discipline institutions. Students of such institutions
will not be exposed to the full academic rigours of the basic
biological, chemical, geological, mathematical and physical sciences
allied to studies of agricultural sciences and economics. While
these graduates may be competent in rural production and land
management we are concerned that they will be incapable of identifying
and capitalising on nascent innovations. This poses the risk that
the UK will fail to identify and exploit opportunities for sustainable
rural development and conservation of biodiversity at considerable
financial and social cost to our population. The UK also risks
failing to foresee and guard against the increasing likelihood
of biological and agricultural disasters, for example the effects
of climate change on crop production, the spread of diseases such
as FMDV, and the potential risks posed by use of GM organisms.
5. The Institute, in line with Government
policy on openness and Science and Society Select Committee recommendations,
are pleased for this response to be publicly available and, with
permission, will be placing a version on www.iob.org. Should the
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have any queries
regarding this response then they should in the first instance
address them to Dr Caroline Wallace, Science Policy Advisor, Institute
of Biology, 20-22 Queensberry Place, London, SW7 2DZ, email: email@example.com