Memorandum from the Institute of Food
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.
No comment, but see the comment below relating
to the isolation of researchers in teaching-centred (or less-research-active)
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
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.)
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
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.
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
There are salary issues that affect recruitment
in London and the South-East, but increasingly also in other areas.
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.