Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Institute of Food Science and Technology Trust Fund (IFST)

  It is important that the size and scope of the food and drink manufacturing industry is realised. This industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. It has an annual turnover of around £66 billion with more than 500,000 employees in over 7,000 businesses. This is 12.9% of the total UK manufacturing workforce and, in turn, it supports the retailing and wholesaling operations employing almost 900,000 people. The industry also buys more than two-thirds of UK agricultural produce. Hence, its strategic development is essential especially when there are demands in the areas of food safety, product innovation, improved nutrition, waste minimisation and environmental impact.

  It should also be realised that Food Science and Technology is a multi-disciplinary subject with many practitioners having experience in Maths, Statistics, Chemistry, Biology, aspects of Physics, Physiology and Psychology in their undergraduate Food Science and Technology degree programmes as well as Food Chemistry, Food Microbiology, Food Safety, Sensory Evaluation, Food Engineering and Nutrition, for example the multi-disciplinary nature of Food Science and Technology has made its graduates very versatile and adaptable and, thereby, sought after by industries other than the Food Industry, for example the biotechnology industry. Other Food Scientists and Technologists enter the profession with degree backgrounds, initially, in Biochemistry, Chemistry, Microbiology, Nutrition, etc and are "moulded" into Food Science and Technology through in-house training. Hence, the availability of the traditional science subjects at university level is essential.

  It is very pertinent that IFST hosted a Forum at The Royal Society, London, on 6 October 2004 on the subject "The Future for Food Science and Technology". This focussed on the needs of the Food Industry and profession and how these are met by the secondary, further and higher education sectors. An outcome of this Forum is that IFST along with Improve Ltd (the Food & Drink Sector Skills Council) and the Science Council are collaborating in a project, led by Improve Ltd, to scope the skills needs of, and the shortages experienced by, the Food Industry (processing and retail). All of this is very relevant to the New Inquiry.

  It is noted that this New Inquiry is restricted to English Universities. This clearly limits the value of the results and recommendations arising from this Inquiry since many of the issues raised will have UK-wide relevance.

  The comments given below are directly linked with the points raised in the invitation to provide evidence.

The desirability of increasing the concentration of research in a small number of university departments and the consequences of such a trend

  Although it would be superficially attractive to concentrate R&D in a small number of universities in order to achieve economies of scale and create centres of excellence it should, nevertheless, be recognised that the needs of Regional Development Agencies to support their local, indigenous Food industries requires a countrywide provision of underpinning Food Science and Technology as well as single degree subjects of direct relevance to Food Science and Technology. The consequences of a trend to concentrate research effort would be that research provision could favour one region over another. In this instance research is taken to include industrially-sponsored R&D as well as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (formerly known as Teaching Company Schemes).

The importance of maintaining a regional capacity in university science teaching and research

  This links with the previous paragraph. It is considered self-evident that there should be a good geographical spread especially on a UK-wide basis. This is necessary to meet the civic role of many universities and also ensure that local requirements are satisfied. This is also a significant factor in order to reduce the financial burden now faced by many students when studying at university.

The optimal balance between teaching and research provision in universities, giving particular consideration to the desirably and financial viability of teaching-only departments

  It is self-evident that the best teaching at university level is research-led. This both enthuses and excites students and optimises their academic achievements. Both academic staff and students will be attracted to departments with a research component and so it can be foreseen that the teaching-only department, which does not fit within a university ethos, would be likely to wither and die.

  In terms of overall balance in activity between R&D and teaching it is considered that the majority activity should be research and an appropriate balance between the two activities is suggested to be 60% research, 40% teaching. In the case of Food Science and Technology the majority of the R&D should be strategic as opposed to fundamental or applied.

The extent to which Government should intervene

  It is essential that Government should intervene at national level to ensure the continued provision of these strategically important science subjects since these ultimately underpin the development and economic performance and viability of the nation. It is self-evident that almost every aspect of modern life derives from science. Hence, science subjects must be maintained and promoted.

  This policy, at regional and local levels, should be the remit of the Funding Councils. As stated previously, this is a UK-wide issue and not one solely for England and so to effectively tackle this on a UK-wide basis the Funding Councils should be involved.

  IFST trusts that the Science and Technology Committee will find these comments valuable and the Institute would be pleased to present this evidence orally to the Committee should that be required.

February 2005

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