Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society
Any discussion about the role of
higher education (HE) needs to take into account the varied nature
of HE provision and the wide diversity of qualifications, students
and learning modes encompassed by HE learning. This diversity
is good: it shows a healthy sector in which institutions are able
to "play to their strengths"" and offer a wide
range of students the learning opportunities that are appropriate
The prime responsibilities of a university
are to teach, to maintain and develop the corpus of knowledge
and to transfer this knowledge, both through teaching students
and through other activities such as interaction with business.
While there are changes to the ways in which universities deliver
these aims, for example their developing role in transferring
knowledge to business, we believe that this broad role is constant.
Universities are dependent on the
funding that they receive for both research and for teaching.
It is important that the funding regime adequately funds both
functions and does not inadvertently provide incentives to concentrate
on one activity over the other. It is also important to recognise
that there are interdependencies between teaching and research,
such as the need for scholarship.
We believe that the UK should be
exploring more broadly whether our current HE system is delivering
what students, employers, the economy and wider society need from
its graduates and how this will change over the next decade. The
Society's Science HE 2015 and beyond study is considering
these wider issues and how the structure, content and purpose
of the different stages of our current HE system may need to evolve
in the future. The Bologna Process has the potential to act as
one driver for such change.
1. The Royal Society welcomes the opportunity
to submit evidence to the House of Commons Education and Skills
Committee inquiry on The future sustainability of the higher
education sector: purpose, funding and structures. This submission
has been prepared with the advice of the Society's higher education
(HE) working group and has been approved by Professor Martin Taylor
FRS, Vice President and Physical Secretary, on behalf of the Council
of the Royal Society. We are also submitting evidence to the Committee's
inquiry on The Bologna Process.
2. HE is a vital component of the UK's education
system and plays a major role in maintaining the nation's intellectual
vitality and culture, preparing its students for their future
contribution to society and building a leading knowledge-based
economy. The Society's HE working group has recently published
a report entitled A degree of concern? UK first degrees in
science, technology and mathematics (Royal Society 2006b),
from which many of the points in this submission are drawn. A
copy of the report is enclosed with this submission. The group
is currently engaged in a broader study considering the fitness
for purpose of UK science, technology and mathematics (STM) HE
into the middle of the next decade and beyond, Science HE 2015
and beyond (see Annex A for further details). This study will
report in autumn 2007 and the group will be developing its thinking
on these questions over the coming months. We would be happy to
expand further on the points in this submission or to give oral
evidence to the Committee.
3. The Committee's inquiry is very broad.
While we welcome the ambition of the inquiry, and appreciate that
many issues relating to HE are inter-related, we would caution
that such a wide scope will involve considerable time and effort
if each issue is to be considered with the care that it requires.
In this submission we focus on the role of universities over the
next 5-10 years and university funding, and consider briefly the
structure of the HE sector. Our response is organised under these
main headings. As the UK's national academy of science, our response
focuses on science in its broad sense, encompassing technology,
engineering and mathematics. However, we also elicit key principles
about the HE sector and its purpose, funding and structures wherever
NEXT 5-10 YEARS
The diversity of the HE sector
4. We believe that any discussion about
the role of universities needs to take sufficient account of the
varied nature of HE provision and the wide diversity of qualifications,
students and learning modes encompassed by HE learning.
5. HE is supplied by universities, university
colleges and further education colleges. These institutions all
position themselves in different ways and have different levels
of engagement with their communities, and with local, national
and multi-national businesses.
6. HE is delivered at undergraduate and
postgraduate levels. Undergraduate qualifications can be further
divided into first degrees (those leading to the award of bachelors
or integrated masters degrees, typically taking the equivalent
of three or four years full-time study) and other undergraduate
qualifications, such as two-year Foundation Degrees and Higher
National Diplomas and Certificates (HNDs/HNCs). In 2004-05, while
over 65% of students studying first degree courses were under
21 years old, over 85% of students studying for other undergraduate
qualifications were over 21 and just over 60% were 30-years-old
and over. Students can study full-time, part-time, through distance
learning or through mixed-modes of learning, for example a combination
of work-based learning and university attendance. In 2004-05,
85% of UK domiciled first-year students studying for a first degree
were studying full-time, while only 33% of UK domiciled first-year
students studying for other undergraduate qualifications were
full-time students (HESA 2006).
7. This diversity is good: it shows a healthy
sector in which institutions are able to "play to their strengths"
and offer a wide range of students the learning options that are
appropriate for them. However, this range is not equally available
to all students, and puts a premium on giving good advice to young
people making degree choices from among this array of options.
8. We also strongly support efforts to widen
participation in HE. In common with virtually every other country
in the world, participation in UK HE has dramatically increased
over the past century, with much of this expansion taking place
over the past 40 years. However, it is important to recognise
that some of this expansion is due to changing definitions of
HE participationfor example, until the 1990s only under-21
year-olds entering full-time or sandwich degree courses were counted
in HE participation statistics, with students undertaking other
HE qualifications such as HNDs and HNCs omitted. These changes
in definition bring a fuller picture of the true level of participation
9. Since the late 1980s, successive UK governments
have pursued policies to widen access to HE and increase overall
participation. The present Government's aim of increasing participation
in HE towards 50% of those aged 18-30 by 2010 is largely being
tackled through an expansion in other undergraduate qualifications
such as the two-year Foundation Degrees introduced in 2001. Figures
from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA 2006) show that
there was a 25% increase in the number of UK-domiciled first-year
undergraduates studying for first degrees between 1995-96 and
2004-05, while the number of UK-domiciled first-year undergraduates
studying for other undergraduate qualifications increased by 105%.
Again, this emphasises the valuable diversity of the HE sector.
10. We consider this question under the
Committee's three headings of students, employers, and government
and society more broadly, though there are naturally links between
the needs of these groups, particularly as their membership is
not mutually exclusive.
What do students want from universities?
11. Higher education, in any subject, should
provide students with:
(i) intrinsic valuedeveloping critical
and analytical thinking and an inquiring mind;
(ii) preparation for lifeenabling
people to contribute to civic life and democratic debate; and
(iii) preparation for workdeveloping
the skills, knowledge and experience desirable for employment
and further study, and preparing graduates for the ongoing learning
and development that will be necessary throughout their careers.
12. With the introduction of tuition fees,
students are increasingly "consumers" of HE: there are
more options than ever open to them and they rightly expect to
receive value-for-money for their education. For science courses,
which often last four years and require a time-commitment to practical
work which can reduce the opportunity for term-time working, this
could have adverse implications for future student numbers. This
issue is considered further in paragraphs 32-34.
13. Concern has been expressed about the
level of mathematical skills and practical experience with which
students are starting first degree courses in the sciences (see,
for example, Engineering Council 2000, Ove Arup 2003). From a
student perspective, it is highly demotivating to achieve the
A level or equivalent qualifications necessary to enter HE and
then arrive and find that your level of knowledge or experience
is considered insufficient. Against a background of increasing
student choice within the 14-19 curriculum and widening participation
in HE, it is imperative that universities recognise the multiplicity
of entry qualifications and subject combinations with which students
are starting their courses and actively help students bridge the
gap between 16-19 qualifications and degree-level study. HE curricula
therefore need to adapt to reflect changes in the 14-19 curriculum.
In parallel with this, it is important for the HE community to
articulate the skills, knowledge and experience that are perceived
to be desirable in new undergraduates and to be involved, alongside
other stakeholders including employers, in shaping the future
development of 14-19 education. However, there have been many
changes to 14-19 education over the past decade and greater long-term
stability is necessary to create a sustainable situation in which
the gap between 16-19 education and university study is minimised.
14. Finally, we believe that policy makers
should give greater consideration to ensuring that HE courses
at all levels are satisfactory as a start to lifelong learning,
and that they equip their graduates with the flexibility to change
career direction as required.
What do employers want from graduates?
15. We believe that it is crucial to maintain
the high standard of all UK honours degree courses. These degrees
encourage students' critical thinking and, particularly in science,
engineering, technology and mathematics, expose students to the
generation and critical analysis of experimental data.
16. Graduates from science and engineering
degrees will enter a wide range of occupations, some of which
will directly use the technical knowledge gained through their
degrees and some of which will draw mainly on wider skills. The
main recruiters of science and engineering graduates have traditionally
looked for technical knowledge and intellectual capability in
those that they employ. There appears to have been an increased
emphasis in recent decades on combining subject expertise with
good interpersonal skills, practical employment experience and
commercial understanding. The respective roles of the HE system,
employers and the students themselves in developing these attributes
have been less clearly articulated.
17. The recently published report of the
Leitch Review of Skills (Leitch 2006), commissioned by the Government
in 2004 to provide an independent review of the UK's long term
skills needs, considers the balance of responsibilities of Government,
employers and individuals for investing in skills in the UK. The
report recommends that the UK skills system should be fully demand
led, flexibly delivering the skills that employers and individuals
need, rather than trying to predict future demand for different
skills. The report proposes the establishment of an employer-led
Commission for Education and Skills to deliver greater leadership
and influence in this area.
18. Graduates who have gained work experience
during their studies are highly valued by many employers, but
in many subjects it is difficult to find enough employers willing
to offer such work placements. For many smaller companies it can
be particularly difficult to offer such experience. The pressure
on graduates to arrive in first employment with prior practical
experience partly reflects the intensification of competitive
pressures facing employers in many sectors combined with the effects
of "delayering" in many organisations, resulting in
fewer people being available to supervise inexperienced graduate
Feedback mechanisms between HE & business
19. Relationships between university departments
and employers tend to involve primarily large firms, and be confined
to only a few such relationships per department. They are often
focused on research or knowledge transfer, rather than on curriculum
development. In addition, most small and medium-sized enterprises
lack the resources to engage in such relationships, although there
are notable exceptions in highly science-dependent sectors. There
is also an important role for university careers services to play
in maintaining links between universities and employers.
20. It is vital that, as the needs of UK
employers develop and change, the requirements of science and
engineering employers are articulated to the HE sector effectively.
In particular, HE institutions developing new courses, especially
those that appeal to students hoping to enter particular careers
or employment sectors, should seek employer involvement in the
course design and structure.
Quantitative demand for graduates
21. Although any attempt at estimating the
total number of graduates with particular skills is fraught with
difficulties, we can be confident that the development of the
UK as a major knowledge-based economy will require:
an excellent and vibrant university
research base, covering a wide spread of subjects;
a sustained supply of science, engineering,
technology and mathematics professionals with appropriate skills,
knowledge and experience, including school and college teachers,
university faculty, researchers and technicians; and
a good mix of discipline backgrounds,
crucially including science and engineering, within the general
Any review of employer demand for STM graduates
must take account of quality as well as quantity issues, considering
the skills, knowledge and experience that it is desirable for
STM graduates to develop through their studies.
What should the Government, and society more broadly,
want from HE?
22. The prime responsibilities of a university
are to teach, to maintain and develop the corpus of knowledge
and to transfer this knowledge, through teaching students and
through other activities such as interaction with business. While
there are changes to the ways in which universities deliver these
aims, for example their developing role in transferring knowledge
to business, we believe that this broad role is constant. The
activities comprising this role are interconnected. There are
obvious dangers in trying to make policies in one area without
understanding the interdependence on other areas.
23. From these overlapping aimsteaching,
developing knowledge and transferring knowledgeit is clear
that universities' responsibilities to the nation include the
supplying skilled graduates at all
to build an adequate work force;
to create an educated democracy, empowering
people to contribute to civic life and democratic debate;
to widen participation in higher education;
to enhance the nation's quality of life;
carrying out researchin the
UK the bulk of fundamental research is undertaken at universities
and they are largely responsible for the high international standing
of UK research;
providing appropriate career structures
for future researchers;
providing advice and consultancy
for, among others:
public sector services; and
policymakersfor example, in area
studies or science policy;
attracting and retaining firms, both
to local regions and to the UK;
providing public space for networking
contributing to the overall cultural
vitality of the UK;
contributing to the economy as businesses
themselves, for example as large employers and as purchasers of
goods and services.
24. Universities are dependent on the funding
that they receive for both research and for teaching. Individual
institutions are free to focus their efforts on research or teaching,
and many seek to excel in both. It is important that the funding
regime does not inadvertently provide incentives to concentrate
on one activity over the other. It is also important to recognise
that there are interdependencies between teaching and research.
Scholarship, in the sense of a deep understanding and ongoing
engagement with the concepts, ideas, methodology and analysis
being taught, is necessary as a background to any professional
activity in the universities, and indeed throughout education.
25. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers
(PwC) for the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics
(PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP 2004) considered the economic costs
and benefits (to the individual and the state) associated with
education to first degree standard. These were compared with those
for an individual with two or more A levels as their highest qualification.
The study concluded that, as well as the substantial economic
benefits to individual graduates over their working life, there
are economic benefits of HE to the state. Although the state bears
significant costs during the period of study itself, there are
substantial tax benefits to the Exchequer, particularly later
in a graduate's working life, as earnings and related taxation
payments increase. It currently costs the state approximately
£21,000 to provide higher education to first degree level
for the "average" graduate, but the additional return
to the state in terms of the tax and national insurance associated
with earnings following qualification is approximately £93,000.
However, the economic benefits of HE to the country are primarily
in the form of GDP growth and the payback to government is clearly
much larger than the tax graduates pay.
26. In addition to these returns to the
public purse, there are clearly social and cultural imperatives
for the state to fund HE teaching to the extent that it does.
27. Universities receive their funding from
a variety of sources, and the proportion of a university's income
intended for its teaching activities varies considerably across
the sector. In the four universities with the highest overall
income in 2003-04 (Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College and University
College London), funding dependent on teaching represented only
22% of total income. However, in the post-1992 institutions, teaching
income represented, on average, 67% of total income. This variation
has several important consequences, including the need to cover
the full costs of teaching. These costs not only include the direct
cost of teaching students, but also the costs of the necessary
scholarship to enable staff to keep up with developments in their
subject, and liaison activities with, for example, potential employers
of graduates appropriate for the particular subject.
28. Despite the significant increases in
the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) teaching grant since
1998-99, this now represents a decreasing share of the total funding,
with course fees from non-EU overseas students becoming, proportionately,
an increasingly important source of funding (Royal Society 2006b).
The number of international students choosing to study in the
UK is highly dependent on several factors including exchange rates,
UK Government policy and the policy of the government in the student's
home country; for these reasons income from overseas course fees
is likely to be volatile and universities should resist becoming
over-reliant on it.
Cost of laboratory-based subjects
29. Universities will be aware of the overall
costs of their various activities, including teaching, and some
will have disaggregated information to departmental level and
to various levels of courses. However, sector-wide comparable
figures will not be available until the new Transparent Approach
to Costing (TRAC) exercise for teaching is completed. A pilot
implementation is taking place in 2006-07, with robust figures
expected to be reported by early 2008. The need for full costing
for the teaching function is particularly important in the UK
because, almost uniquely, the UK public funding for HE has separate
streams for teaching and underpinning research.
30. Laboratory-based subjects have been
particularly badly hit when research income from the Funding Councils
has been cut. The funding of science and engineering courses in
England has been reduced after the change from 2.0 to 1.7 in the
weighting used in the formula for calculating the block teaching
grant for laboratory based subjects (HEFCE 2004). In response
to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry
into strategic subjects, we expressed the view (Royal Society
2005) that teaching, particularly in science and engineering subjects,
was under-funded and subsidised from research activities, and
possibly from lower-cost teaching activities in other subjects.
Recent studies of the finances of samples of physics (IOP 2006)
and chemistry (RSC 2006) departments have shown that on a TRAC
basis all of the departments considered were in deficit.
31. We welcome the news that the Higher
Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is to provide £75
million in additional funding to support very high cost science
subjects, which are defined as strategically important to the
economy and society but vulnerable because of relatively low student
demand or by a concentration of the subject in institutions which
may be particularly vulnerable to change. However, it is vital
to know how much it really costs to teach different subjects at
university level, so that more expensive disciplines, including
the sciences, can be funded appropriately in the long-term. The
additional HEFCE funding should help to support the more expensive
lab-based subjects until the TRAC data are available, but it is
vital that this temporary measure is then replaced by a sustainable
long-term set of arrangements.
32. At present, the additional year of fees
for four year science and engineering courses can be a disincentive
for some students and we are concerned that additional disincentives
to studying science and engineering subjects are avoided.
33. In our response to the White Paper on
the future of HE (Royal Society 2003) and more recently in evidence
to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry
into strategic science provision (Royal Society 2005), we have
warned about the possibility of science and engineering subjects
being disadvantaged by differential student fees. As noted in
paragraph 28, course fees are an increasingly important source
of teaching income for institutions and this has implications
for the level of compensatory fee that could be levied on students
studying more expensive lab-based subjects. Even if science and
engineering subjects are not disadvantaged through differential
fees, their students might find it relatively difficult to minimise
debt and supplement their income because of the content and length
of their courses.
34. We are also concerned that if there
were any differential between course fees this could be a disincentive
to middle/lower-income students studying more expensive subjects.
It is not yet clear how effective bursaries will be at alleviating
35. There are seven overlapping reasons
for funding fundamental research:
(i) to support the basic interest that exists
in all advanced civilisations in scientific discovery and the
pursuit of understanding;
(ii) to maintain and develop knowledge, skills,
and long-term research infrastructure, both for unforeseen eventualities
and also to maintain a capacity to keep in touch with, and understand,
developments occurring elsewhere in the world;
(iii) to solve problemsfor example,
to underpin solutions to societal challenges such as those in
the health, social, economic and environmental areas;
(iv) to fuel economic activity, creating
new and better/cheaper products and new and better/more efficient
(v) to train PhDs and post doctoral researchers
and to provide within universities an exciting and challenging
learning environment for first degree and masters students;
(vi) to retain existing expertise in the
UK, and to attract inward migration of skilled people; and
(vii) to retain business investment and
to attract "foreign" companies/capital.
Implicit in many of these are the key roles
that fundamental research plays in maintaining culture and a community's
standing within the world. Martin and Tang (Martin & Tang
2006) at SPRU in Sussex, identify seven similar such channels
of benefit from publicly-funded basic research to the economy
or to society more generally and argue, that, taking all seven
together, university research offers an incontrovertible benefit
to the economy and to society.
36. From these reasons it can be seen that
there are significant localised benefits from fundamental research
maintaining expertise across a wide
range of disciplines, with people able to pick up and run with
new ideas wherever they are generatedthis capacity includes
being available to provide advice to regional and national governments;
providing the entry ticket to the
international research community, sometimes through formal collaborations,
but at other times just through attendance at conferences and
maintaining an interface between
universities and the business and wider community; and
educational benefits of a research-active
37. Research in the UK receives public investment
selectively, via the dual support mechanism which sustains high
quality research and nurtures promising projects and individuals.
Research Council (RC) funds are distributed on the basis of specific
grant applications, judged on promise, while HEFC Quality Related
(QR) funds are allocated on the basis of past achievements, as
assessed by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). RC funds must
be spent on the project for which they were awarded, whereas HEFC
QR funds can be used at the discretion of the institution.
38. In our recent submission to the Department
for Education and Skills consultation on the reform of higher
education research assessment and funding (Royal Society 2006a),
we stated that we agree with Government (HM Government 2006) that
dual support is an effective mechanism to sustain excellent research.
The vital plurality of judgement, which is a central feature of
dual support, is lost if either funding stream is directly dependent
on the other.
39. We welcomed Government's decision to
review the current RAE, recognising that the assessment process
needs to be more efficient and streamlined for institutions and
assessors, and that user-focused and interdisciplinary research
should be better recognised and rewarded. However, we were very
concerned about the proposal to allocate QR funding via a metrics-based
formula, particularly where the metrics to be used were all income
40. The recent announcement in the 2006
Pre-Budget report and associated documents (HMT 2006) set out
new proposals for research assessment. We are pleased that the
2008 RAE round will go ahead as planned, and the timetable for
change appears satisfactory. We are also pleased that expert review
will remain part of the assessment for non science, engineering
and technology (non-SET) subjects, which are here defined as including
41. However, we are very disappointed that
there is no proper role for peer review in the evaluation of SET
subjects, and that a decision has been taken to assess different
subjects in different ways. The majority of responses to consultation
were against this, including that of the Society. Interdisciplinary
work is a significant, important and increasing part of UK research
effort, and measures that may discriminate against areas that
bridge SET and non-SET are concerning.
42. We are also very concerned about the
£60 million of QR funding that will be allocated to university/business
research. The mechanism for distributing this money will be of
prime importance. We look forward to discussing proposals with
relevant parts of Government and HEFCE.
43. The Society remains strongly committed
to the need for subject-based review panels. These should be,
as now, informed by a series of qualitative and quantitative indicators.
We also believe that any reward-linked assessment will influence
individual and institutional behaviour, so behavioural responses
to any system will need to be monitored to identify negative effects.
44. A key feature of HE teaching is the
high level of scholarship required, defined here as a deep understanding
and ongoing engagement with the concepts, ideas, methodology and
analysis being taught. The necessary staff time for this activity
is insufficiently taken account of in central funding, exacerbating
the shortfall in the funding of teaching. The issue is complicated
by the relationship of scholarship with other activities that
enhance it, such as: active research; and professional development,
including close interaction with innovative employers of relevant
graduates, attendance at international meetings, and collaboration
with professional colleagues in the public services and business
45. The importance of research activity
within departments has featured in the discussions on recent closures
of science departments. However, research activity can take many
forms, including: the collection and analysis of new data; modelling;
and the analysis and synthesis of existing data. Although the
cost of such activities can vary greatly, at a minimum it is necessary
to cover the relevant cost of faculty time. The relationship between
teaching and research was the subject of a review by the HE Research
Forum, which was set up jointly in 2003 by the then Minister for
Lifelong Learning and Minister for Science and Innovation (DfES
2004). This reported that those students who are not learning
in an HE environment that is informed by research, and in which
it is not possible to access research-related resources, are at
a disadvantage compared with those who are. Accordingly it recommended
that universities that have a low level of HEFCE research funding
should receive funding to support research-informed teaching.
This recommendation was accepted by the Government and subsumed
within the HEFCE funding calculations for the Teaching Quality
Enhancement Fund (HEFCE 2006). It is important to monitor whether
the level of research-informed learning improves as a result of
46. The Committee raises a number of important
questions about the structure of the HE sector and its future
development. The Society's Science HE 2015 and beyond study (see
Annex A for further details) is considering whether the overall
structure of the UK HE system will be fit for purpose in 2015
and beyond. The study will consider this question in the light
of many of the issues raised by the Committee and will report
in autumn 2007.
47. We believe that the Bologna Process
has the potential to act as a driver for change more generally
in UK HE. Aside from the opportunity the process provides for
the UK to consider how the structure, content and purpose of the
different stages of our current HE system compare to the arrangements
in other countries, we should anyway be exploring more broadly
whether our current system is delivering what students, employers,
the economy and wider society need from its graduates and how
this will evolve over the next decade.
Science department closures
48. Ensuring that the education system as
a whole will provide the education and trained individuals to
maintain economic and social well-being in the UK into the future
is clearly the responsibility of Government. Equally, it is the
responsibility of individual universities to determine their own
future development. While we strongly believe in the autonomy
of individual institutions, it is vital for Government to have
the right incentive structure in place to ensure the future health
of vulnerable disciplines.
49. It is notable that many closures have
occurred in departments with low research income. This supports
our belief that teaching is under-funded in science and engineering
subjects and has to be cross-subsidised with research income.
The science and innovation investment framework (HMT 2004) stated
that approximately 15 physics and 11 chemistry departments have
closed over the past ten years, based on data from several sources
including the research assessment exercise (RAE) and UCAS.
50. More recently, the 2001 RAE created
a large gap in funding between 5 and 4 rated departments. Since
then high-profile withdrawals of physics undergraduate teaching
have occurred at the Universities of Reading and Newcastle, both
rated 4 in the 2001 RAE. The Chemistry Department at the University
of Sussex also came close to closure this year, reportedly because
the university was concerned that it might not retain its 5 rating
in the 2008 RAE and would therefore lose research funding. This
threat appears to have been lifted, and applications are reported
to be buoyant.
51. As noted in paragraph 31, we welcome
HEFCE's recent announcement of an extra £75 million to support
very high cost science subjects, which are defined as strategically
important to the economy and society but vulnerable because of
relatively low student demand or a concentration of the subject
in institutions which may be particularly vulnerable to change.
We are also supportive of the programmes designed to both increase
and widen student participation in science and engineering subjects,
which have been developed in collaboration with the relevant professional
bodies and communities and in engineering, physics, chemistry
and mathematics, with a similar programme for computing in development.
52. Science provision can be considered
at a range of levelsEurope-wide, UK-wide, by country or
by region. To some students and large firms the location of a
particularly attractive university course or research programme
is irrelevant. However, the advent of a mass HE system, the reduction
in individual student support, and the imperative to provide equal
opportunity of access to HE mean that local teaching provision
is very important. The formation of regional "deserts""
created by closures of university departments increases the risk
of discrimination against those who may need to stay near home
because of family commitments, cultural or financial pressures.
Furthermore, without local university departments in the physical
sciences and engineering, the opportunities for increasing university-school
links in these subjects, as promised in the Government's science
and innovation investment framework (HMT 2004), will be severely
reduced in some areas.
53. Although larger companies can access
information on a worldwide basis, small and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) can be very dependent on their local universities for access
to research or expertise and consultancy, as well as for the provision
of public space for networking. Hence, it is still relevant to
consider what provision is required at a regional level.
The supply network
54. The future of university science departments
also depends on the success of schools and colleges in supplying
a sufficient quantity, quality and diversity of science students.
While the traditional supply chain into universities has become
a complex network of schools, Further Education Colleges, universities
and employers, we are facing a long-term decline in the popularity
of A level subjects that provide young people with the most common
route into the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering
at university. While the 2006 A level results showed improvements
in entries to mathematics and further mathematics, and a more
modest recovery in chemistry entries, the number of physics A
level entries fell to a new low with 2.7% fewer UK students taking
the subject than in 2005, or a 37% decrease since 1991 during
which time the total number of entries across all subjects have
steadily increased, reaching a new record peak in 2006.
55. Major and fundamental changes have been
introduced to GCSE science courses from September 2006 and A level
is currently under review by the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority. These and other changes allow schools and colleges
a very wide range of academic and applied courses from which to
choose what they offer their students. While such range can be
welcomed, it is not clear on what basis choices will be made and
how this will differ across institutions. It is important therefore
to monitor these and other changes in school science education
to ensure that they do not have any negative effects on continuation
into science in HE.
56. In March 2006, the Society held a stakeholder
conference on increasing uptake of science post-16 from which
arose a number of recommendations for action and research. The
priority for increasing capacity in the school/college sector
is to ensure science teachers with appropriate backgrounds are
recruited, retained and given access and entitlement to professional
development throughout their careers. A skilled, enthused and
appropriately deployed teaching profession will be able to tackle
some of the weak points in the supply network: maintaining interest
in science through the often problematic transition from the end
of Primary school into Secondary school; raising the profile of
vocational science and engineering courses; and motivating students
to continue with physics, chemistry and maths post-16 despite
perceptions of their relative difficulty or relevance.
57. It is essential to ensure that sufficient
high quality graduates are retained within universities. The Society
has a range of programmes designed to help some of the highest
quality scientists and engineers at key transitional stages (see
paragraph 62), but we have major concerns about whether academic
careers are now sufficiently attractive to secure the future faculty
of the university system. While the Government's response to the
Roberts recommendations (HMT 2002) has gone some way to improving
the situation at postdoctoral level, more needs to be done to
improve the attractiveness of permanent academic teaching posts.
58. The Society's ongoing policy work in
HE has already been mentioned (paragraph 2 and Annex A), and we
will keep the Committee informed of progress. The Society also
has a number of activities and schemes that are highly relevant
to the issues underlying this inquiry.
59. The Society is committed to considering
the education system in its entirety wherever possible. The future
of science in the HE sector is dependent on the opinions formed
and vital decisions made during Primary and Secondary education,
and of course these sectors are directly linked through the supply
of science graduates into initial teacher training. Our policy
work therefore includes a focus on: maintaining quality and purpose
for science and mathematics within the 14-19 curriculum; increasing
supply and retention of specialist science teachers; and ensuring
adequate provision for young people to undertake scientific investigations
in schools and colleges.
60. The extent of the challenge is such
that a major, coherent response to the challenges facing science
and mathematics education is needed on the part of the science,
engineering and education communities in collaboration with government,
the devolved administrations and industry. The Society is playing
a prominent role in bringing this about. Together with the Joint
Mathematical Council we set up ACME, the Advisory Committee on
Mathematics Education, which successfully brings coherence to
the views of the mathematics community and helps chart the future
of mathematics education. With a view to providing a similarly
coherent and influential voice for the science community, we have
taken the lead in establishing a partnership of key science community
and science education organisations, SCORE (the Science Community
Partnership Supporting Education). The group comprises the Association
for Science Education, the Biosciences Federation, Institute of
Physics, Institute of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Science
Council and ourselves, and is devoting its collective resources
to increasing the numbers of young people studying science at
school and progressing to study science and engineering at further
and higher education levels.
61. The Society also directly supports collaborations
between universities and schools through its Partnership Grants
scheme, offering up to £3,000 to schools wanting to undertake
a creative science project in conjunction with a scientist or
engineer. These experts can bring cutting-edge knowledge and enthusiasm
into the classroom, and can act as motivators and role models
for young people. Therefore we are also piloting a new training
course for scientists interested in working with schools. Our
Summer Science Exhibition also attracts around 1,000 post-16 students
62. The Society also has a number of schemes,
funded both from the Science Budget and from its own resources,
to support academic research careers. The Society believes that
the key to the highest scientific achievement lies in the recognition
and fostering of individual quality. The Society's largest funding
programme, the University Research Fellowships, aims to provide
stability for promising researchers and the freedom to build independent
research careers. The scheme has been running since 1994 and during
this time over 800 researchers have been funded. Currently the
scheme offers up to ten years' support in the form of salary and
Royal Society/Wolfson Research Merit Awards
aim to attract key researchers, with great potential or outstanding
achievement, to this country or to retain those who might seek
to gain higher salaries overseas. The awards provide funding for
salary enhancement and some research expenses. The Society also
aims to provide schemes to retain scientists within academic research
at different points during their careers:
Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships provide
a first step into an independent research career for excellent
scientists and engineers for whom career flexibility is essential.
UK Relocation Fellowships aim to
help researchers who wish to move to follow a partner who has
changed place of work and moved a significant distance.
Professorships provide long-term
support for world-class scientists, allowing them to focus on
research and collaboration.
We are further supporting these exceptional
individuals through new training and mentoring arrangements to
help them play key roles in strengthening the UK science base.
Increasing our emphasis on applied science and engineering, we
are introducing new initiatives to enhance the transfer of knowledge
from the science base into business. Through training in innovation
and entrepreneurship, the research fellows will be better equipped
to capitalise on research with the potential for commercialisation.
The Royal Society is committed to supporting and recognising innovative
science through a range of funding schemes and awards:
Brian Mercer Awards for Innovation
and the Brian Mercer Feasibility Awards provide funding to test
the viability of an idea or concept through to near market commercialisation.
The Mullard Award is an annual award
recognising the scientific achievements of an individual and their
contribution to the national prosperity of the UK.
Paul Instrument Fund finances projects
designing and constructing novel scientific instruments in the
field of the physical sciences.
Industry Fellowships support knowledge
transfer between academia and industry.
UK science is strengthened by interaction with
the best scientists and engineers worldwide and to facilitate
this we are expanding our range of grant schemes which cater for
incoming and outgoing fellowships and visits, joint projects and
conference attendance. We hope soon, with government support,
to supplement our existing exchanges with a new international
fellowship scheme modelled along the lines of the Humboldt scheme
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