Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


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 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 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:

January 2005

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