Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum 52

Supplementary memorandum from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)

1.  IS UK MARINE SCIENCE UNDERFUNDED? HOW OPTIMISTIC CAN WE BE ABOUT OCEANS 2025 RECEIVING GUARANTEED FUNDING UNDER THE COMPREHENSIVE SPENDING REVIEW SETTLEMENT?

  NERC is satisfied that marine science receives an appropriate proportion of the funding provided to NERC to administer for environmental science. There are always more excellent research applications made to NERC (and other Research Councils) than can be funded—this applies equally in marine science—and thus NERC turns down proposals for projects rated alpha 4 in many areas of science.

  The Oceans 2025 programme is one of a number of NERC's activities addressing marine science. NERC Council's decision was that Oceans 2025 funding at the desired level is guaranteed only until March 2009, and that the future funding level would be set after the outcome of CSR2007 for NERC is known. NERC would expect to fund Oceans 2025 beyond 2009, but the level of funding will be dependent on the settlement, which has not yet been announced. It is the responsibility of the individual Research Council (in this case NERC) to allocate appropriate funding to its research programmes.

2.  HOW IS DIUS WORKING WITH THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION ON COVERAGE OF MARINE SCIENCE WITHIN THE MARITIME STRATEGY GREEN PAPER AND THE SEVENTH FRAMEWORK PROGRAMME?

  Defra provided input into the UK's response to the maritime strategy green paper, on which the Department for Transport lead. We see the resulting maritime policy as an opportunity to promote more joined up approaches across the Community's institutions, including in relation to marine science and research, where, for example, existing structures can be used to promote better co-operation.

  Marine science is a cross cutting issue in the Seventh Framework Programme with marine resources covered in Theme 2 (Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnology) of the Co-operation Specific Programme and pressures on the marine system and the management of marine environments covered in Theme 6 (Environment, including climate change). The UK works with the Commission through the programme committees for these themes and is represented by Defra, FSA and BBSRC in Theme 2 and Defra and NERC in Theme 6.

3.  WHAT STEPS ARE YOU TAKING TO ENCOURAGE KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER AND INVESTMENT IN MARINE TECHNOLOGY?

  DIUS encourages knowledge transfer through the Higher Education Innovation Fund. This provides funding that allows every (English) University to increase its capacity for knowledge transfer. Particular areas are not specified; rather the HEIF operates at a strategic level, allowing universities flexibility to increase knowledge transfer according to their strengths.

  The Public Sector Research Exploitation fund provides support for the commercialisation of research carried out in public sector bodies including Research Council Institutes, Government Laboratories, NHS hospitals and major museums and art galleries. Funding is awarded on the basis of a competition which is open to all Public Sector Research Establishments. In the last round of the competition (worth a total of £25 million) organisations which received funding included the Sea Mammal Research Unit and a consortium of institutes lead by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

  The Technology Strategy Board is funding a range of research looking at future commercial potential some of which as has a marine context. In particular, investigating marine micro organisms as a source of novel enzymes for biocatalysis and supporting research into wave and tidal energy. The aim of these projects is to support collaboration between business and academia to create future products and services.

  NERC, along with other Research Councils, is placing increasing emphasis on ensuring that the research it funds benefits society and the economy. It has a knowledge transfer (KT) strategy and its activities cover liaison with industry and policy makers, training to encourage scientists to engage in knowledge exchange, and support for the commercialisation of intellectual property arising from NERC-funded research.

  Research proposals submitted to NERC are judged on scientific excellence, but even responsive-mode applicants will in future need to include a KT plan, showing how they would engage with potential users of the research outputs. All NERC directed research programmes include and implement a KT plan, and their programme management committees often include users. NERC's knowledge-transfer funding schemes are available to the marine-science community. NERC invests in developing marine technology where needed for its research, such as AutoSub. NERC's Research and Collaborative Centres, including the Marine Centres, have active KT programmes, and many have staff specifically allocated to KT activities. In preparing the Oceans 2025 proposal, consultation with stakeholders helped to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer, both policy- and technology-related, and Oceans 2025 is currently developing an overarching KT strategy.

  The EPSRC Marine energy SUPERGEN project has nine industrial partners. Industrial involvement is encouraged in EPSRC responsive mode grants but is not a requirement. 26 of the 53 marine technology research projects it supports have industrial collaboration and include 68 separate companies plus other, not for profit, organizations.

4.  WHAT REPRESENTATIONS HAVE YOU RECEIVED ON THE ADEQUACY OF THE UK'S RESEARCH FLEET? SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT INVEST IN MORE UK VESSELS OR SHOULD THE UK POOL RESOURCES WITH OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES?

  I have not received any representations on the adequacy of the UK's research fleet.

  The UK is already pooling resources with other European countries through a highly efficient bartering scheme for ocean-going vessels that has been actively grown in recent years. NERC now has seven barter partners: Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and the USA. The UK could not participate in the scheme if it did not have its own ships. NERC currently barters about 200d per annum on average. Further information on NERC's bartering arrangements was provided in its memorandum to the Committee.

  NERC/BGS leads the European contribution to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme by managing scientific operations. The Japanese and the Americans each have their own research vessels for the programme, but the Europeans use the expertise of NERC/BGS to charter "mission specific platforms" from industry, international research organisations, etc, so that research is not restricted to specific vessels, as exemplified by an expedition of ice breakers chartered to mount a drilling expedition close to the North Pole—adapting an ice breaker to a drilling facility.

5.  WHAT INVOLVEMENT DID THE FORMER OSI/DTI HAVE WITH THE NON-GOVERNMENT SECTOR INITIATIVE TO CONTINUE THE WORK OF THE MARINE FORESIGHT PANEL AFTER FUNDING WAS WITHDRAWN TWO YEARS INTO THE SECOND FORESIGHT ROUND?

  Following the review of the Foresight programme in 2001, the sector-based panels were all disbanded. The programme moved away from this structure, and now operates a highly successful project structure, based around major areas of public policy, such as flooding, infectious diseases, and obesity. The Panel's work at this stage was in a private capacity and did not align with revised Foresight policy and objectives. Foresight had some discussions with the Marine Panel after its funding was terminated, on whether a new Foresight project in their area would be possible. However, their proposals did not receive support from stakeholders within Government—an essential feature in project selection—and therefore the Marine Panel's proposals could not be taken forward.

6.  WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT TO MONITOR AND ADDRESS SKILLS SHORTAGES IN MARINE SCIENCE?

  The prime responsibility must rest with employers who are able to make representations through the Sector Skills Councils. Depending on whether the skill shortage is assessed as having a demand side or a supply side cause, action can be taken to try to address it at an appropriate level.

  The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14 set out a long-term strategy to secure and sustain a supply of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to support the science base. The March 2006 Next Steps document sets out further commitments. Progress against these commitments is reported in the latest Science and Innovation Investment Framework Annual Report.[73] DIUS is working closely with DCSF, who lead on the school science commitments in Next Steps, in ensuring these are delivered. Improving the pipeline flow of scientists and attractiveness of science as a career should be a combined effort by Government, Higher Educational Institutions, National Academies, Business, and other leading stakeholders.

  Research Councils monitor the research capacity and leadership of the science and engineering areas within their respective remits. (Research Councils are not responsible for undergraduate training.)

  NERC's new strategy recognises that the skills base (in general) is an area requiring action. It has identified mathematical modelling, physical oceanography, deep-sea biology and taxonomy as areas of marine science subject to gaps in the skills base. NERC funds research studentships in all areas of marine science—over a thousand studentship grants have been awarded in the past six years. NERC's Research and Collaborative Centres, including the Marine Centres, have close relationships with universities, some having collaborative status or being at least co-located—helping to encourage postgraduate students to work in the marine sciences. The Strategic Oceans Funding Initiative part of Oceans 2025 includes studentship funding to help develop the next generation of marine scientists.

  EPSRC monitors research capacity in engineering generally, of which marine engineering is a subset. EPSRC monitors the health of the engineering discipline and engages in dialogue with employers about their requirements for engineers trained to a postgraduate level.

7.  WHAT RESEARCH HAS BEEN CONDUCTED INTO WIDER PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTHY SEAS AND SUSTAINABLE ECOSYSTEMS?

  The Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) led an EC Framework Programme 6 project "COST-IMPACT" which aimed, inter alia, to estimate the economic cost/benefit of fishing relative to the "value", economic and otherwise, of the environment. One of the activities involved extensive social-science analysis of stakeholders' views of the value of the environment, etc.

  The level of public sponsorship for NGOs in the marine area shows concern for charismatic species, such as the albatross, whales and dolphins, and suggests that there is considerable awareness of the importance of the health of the marine environment/ecosystem.

  NERC's Research and Collaborative Centres support a range of awareness-raising activities.

  List of occasions within the past five years on which the IACMST has reported on its activities to the GCSA/OSI, including annual reporting arrangements and special reports.

  In April 2003, Defra took over responsibility for IACMST. The conditions for the new arrangement included that IACMST have "Access to the CSA, CSAC, and OST where necessary", and that "OST to remain a member of IACMST".[74]

  Since the transfer, IACMST has not formally reported to the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), Chief Scientific Advisers Committee (CSAC), or the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) and/or Science and Innovation Group (which together previously formed OSI).

  GO-Science has retained membership of IACMST, and receives circulated papers.

July 2007






73   http://www.berr.gov.uk/science/science-funding/framework/page9306.html Back

74   Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology: Thirty-third Plenary Meeting held on Thursday 9 January 2003 from 11.30 am in the Council Room, Church House, Westminster, London. Back


 
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