Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 53

Memorandum from the Institute of Food Research

  The Institute of Food Research (IFR) is an Institute with charitable status, sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). It is a member organisation of Norwich Research Park and for the purposes of postgraduate training is an affiliated School of the University of East Anglia. We are pleased to offer the following comments in response to the questions raised.

THE IMPACT OF HEFCE'S RESEARCH FUNDING FORMULAE, AS APPLIED TO RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE RATINGS, ON THE FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF UNIVERSITY SCIENCE DEPARTMENTS

  No comment, but see the comment below relating to the isolation of researchers in teaching-centred (or less-research-active) departments.

THE DESIRABILITY OF INCREASING THE CONCENTRATION OF RESEARCH IN A SMALL NUMBER OF UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH A TREND

  Concentration of research within a smaller number of larger units (which may include elements of other research organisations, such as Institutes) can (i) offer advantages of scale in the provision/acquisition of research infrastructure; (ii) increase the opportunities for productive interaction between researchers and for the evolution of collaborative teams; and (iii) mitigate against academic fragmentation and the failure to maintain critical mass. The development of emerging, interdisciplinary themes (for example, integrative biology; nanotechnology) can also create fresh incentives to maintain local "at risk"" research disciplines. A broad, interdisciplinary and long-term view is essential.

  The increasing concentration of research within a smaller number of centres will increase the tendency to isolation of researchers working outside these centres. There need to be better mechanisms to ensure that high-quality, research-active staff who work elsewhere (for example in teaching-centred departments) are not forced out of research. This urgently requires inclusive and flexible mechanisms to facilitate the mobility and re-alignment of researchers.

THE IMPLICATIONS FOR UNIVERSITY SCIENCE TEACHING OF CHANGES IN THE WEIGHTINGS GIVEN TO SCIENCE SUBJECTS IN THE TEACHING FUNDING FORMULA

  It is important that the cost weightings reflect accurately current (rather than historical) relative costs and that the system is sufficiently fine-tuned in terms of subject classification and content. (For example, the weighting given to biochemistry should take account of the expense of molecular-biology teaching within biochemistry.)

THE OPTIMAL BALANCE BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH PROVISION IN UNIVERSITIES, GIVING PARTICULAR CONSIDERATION TO THE DESIRABILITY AND FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF TEACHING-ONLY SCIENCE DEPARTMENTS

  There is no reason why teaching-only departments should not provide an excellent scientific training at first-degree and Masters' levels. One potential model is for teaching-centred departments to have formalised "feeder" status in relation to research centres. This would strengthen the relationship between the two types of institution and should act to raise the status of university teaching.

  Consideration should also be given to a measured expansion of high-quality technical training, in anticipation of requirements for an increasing proportion of research-support staff to service the rapid development of high-throughput science. This function could be undertaken by a new category of university and college technical departments providing courses at several levels.

  Departments must enrol (only) students of sufficient calibre to ensure that course standards and achievement levels can be maintained. Problems at undergraduate level have a knock-on effect at PhD level where, in our experience, research students are often found to lack basic scientific knowledge. The financial pressure on universities to increase student intakes needs to be relaxed and replaced with a higher level of per capita funding.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING A REGIONAL CAPACITY IN UNIVERSITY SCIENCE TEACHING AND RESEARCH

  Regional science teaching (particularly) is essential, especially given the cost and shortage of accommodation and consequent pressures on students to undertake courses close to their homes. Both teaching and research are critical in promoting a science culture throughout the UK and in building UK-wide links with industry.

  There are salary issues that affect recruitment in London and the South-East, but increasingly also in other areas.

THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD INTERVENE TO ENSURE CONTINUING PROVISION OF SUBJECTS OF STRATEGIC NATIONAL OR REGIONAL IMPORTANCE; AND THE MECHANISMS IT SHOULD USE FOR THIS PURPOSE

  It is important that a UK-wide strategy for the provision of science teaching and training is developed, including the issue of harmonisation of standards with the rest of the EU (especially in higher degrees). It should include subject provision across-the-board, including fast-developing subjects such as bioinformatics as well as established core sciences. Regional provision of the teaching of core subjects (whether emerging or established) should be maintained as a priority.

January 2005



 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 April 2005