Submission from the British Ecological
1. The British Ecological Society is the
learned society for ecology in the UK. Founded in 1913 and with
over 4,000 members, the British Ecological Society supports ecologists
and promotes ecology, the study of living things and their relationship
with the environment in which they live.
2. The British Ecological Society is actively
involved in the promotion of education in ecology at all academic
levels, from primary school to postgraduate. The grant and bursary
schemes which the Society runs encourage everything from field
work in schools, with awards made to teachers to encourage outdoor
education, to support for postdoctoral projects and public engagement
3. This response is strongly supported by
the Institute of Biology, the professional body for UK biologists.
The Institute was founded in 1950, obtained a Royal Charter in
1979, and is a registered charity. The Institute has 14,000 members
across industry, research, education and healthcare, amongst other
areas. The British Ecological Society is a member of the Institute's
Affiliated Societies Forum.
4. The British Ecological Society and Institute
of Biology are disappointed to see that ecology, along with its
allied subjects, is not included within the list of Strategically
Important and Vulnerable Subjects (SIVS) receiving a targeted
allocation under proposals to remove HEFCE funding from ELQs.
5. Ecology and its allied subjects produce
graduates with a thorough understanding of natural processes.
The understanding of ecosystem function and the interactions between
organisms, including humans, and their environment, is crucial
to understanding the challenges posed by environmental change.
6. Ecology provides a holistic understanding
of the natural world, which cannot be garnered from any other
single subject allied to environmental science currently listed
as a SIV by HEFCE.
7. Ecology should be considered as a strategically
important subject in its own right and thus should be exempt from
the proposed funding changes.
Ecology as a Strategically Important and Vulnerable
8. The British Ecological Society (BES)
and Institute of Biology (IoB) are disappointed to see that ecology,
along with its allied subjects, is not included within the list
of Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects (SIVS) receiving
a targeted allocation under proposals to remove HEFCE funding
9. Although Environmental Biology (JACS
CodeC150) and Mycology (C220) appear on the list of SIVS,
Ecology (C180) is not considered as a SIV subject. Biology (C100)
is also not considered as strategically important under these
10. The HEFCE Advisory Group on Strategically
Important and Vulnerable Subjects
defined a subject as Strategically Important if it could meet
the following two criteria:
(a) Does the subject currently provide vital
research and/or graduates with recognisably specialist knowledge,
skills or competencies to the economy and to society?
(b) Is there a substantiated prediction that
vital research and/or graduates with recognisably specialist skills
or knowledge will be required by the economy, society or Government
11. The BES would argue that, now more than
ever, a scientifically and environmentally aware population is
vital to ensure that the UK can respond effectively to environmental
change. A degree in ecology produces individuals possessing the
specialist skills and knowledge needed to identify changes to
natural processes. Ecologists are, and will continue to be, crucial
to the identification of measures to mitigate and adapt to climate
12. Ecologists' ability to identify organisms
is vital to an examination of the Earth's biodiversity, both absolute
and genetic, and to making informed conservation decisions. An
understanding of biodiversity can better allow an understanding
of ecosystem function, and so of the services which ecosystems
provide for human beings.
An understanding of systematics and taxonomy is crucial to the
identification of species, and so to levels of biodiversity. None
of the subjects defined as strategically important or vulnerable
by HEFCE would provide such a grounding.
13. The BES would like to draw the attention
of the Select Committee to the inquiry launched by the House of
Lords Science and Technology Committee in December 2007 into the
state of systematics and taxonomy research.
The BES suggests that the Select Committee examine the results
of this inquiry when available to inform decisions on the importance
of ecological training. This has a crucial role to play in the
development of these core skills.
14. Ecologists receive unique training as
holistic and systems thinkers in managing environmental change.
An ability to manage complexity across a broad field is a key
attribute of a trained ecologist. Such skills can be transferred
effectively to broader policy making, which, in Government in
particular, requires a mutli-disciplinary understanding of environmental
issues. Their expertise ultimately impacts on the policies adopted
by society and so on the economy.
15. DEFRA has recently launched a policy
initiative aiming to embed a holistic approach to environmental
decision-making across Government, the "ecosystems approach".
An assessment of the environmental costs and benefits of different
policy options inherent in this approach and essential to meet
DEFRA's objective to "secure a healthy natural environment",
would not be possible without the expertise of trained ecologists,
both carrying out research on ecosystem structure and function
and providing input at the policy level.
16. Ecologists also have a key role to play
in teaching the next generation, at initial, further and higher
levels, to understand and respect their environment. Building
environmental awareness and fostering behavioural change is crucial
at a time when dangerous climate change poses a real threat to
17. Ecologists' holistic knowledge and understanding
of the environment, across the range of spheres in which this
can be applied, from frontline research, to policy to educating
others, is vital to a society facing unprecedented global warming
and its consequent effects on water security, food availability
and flood defences.
18. The BES would therefore argue that ecology
meets the criteria of a strategically important subject as laid
out by the HEFCE Advisory Group and should thus be exempt from
the funding changes proposed.
Recruitment into ecology careers
19. There are many reasons why an individual
with an initial degree may choose to pursue an undergraduate course
in ecology, from re-skillng and reacquainting themselves with
current research in the area, to fulfilling a long standing ambition
or re-training to change career. The BES supports life-long learning
for all and believes that those wishing to study ecology should
not be discouraged, no matter when in life this decision is taken.
20. The University of London Careers Group
suggests that mature students have additional skills to offer
employers, compared to those following a first degree course.
Their greater experience of organisations and jobs, coupled with
motivation to learn something new later in life, adds to their
Such students, with a real interest and enthusiasm for the discipline,
are welcome in ecology.
21. Figures from the Open University (OU)
suggest that many of those students taking two degrees, BSc (Honours)
in Geosciences and BSc (Honours) in Natural Sciences, both of
which contain environmental courses, anticipate this experience
leading to a change in career, to further professional training
or study within the three years following their graduation. Of
graduates from the BSc in Natural Sciences, 50% of those responding
to an OU questionnaire stated that they hoped to move on to additional
study or training in the subject area. 30% of respondees hoped
to move on to a new occupation as a result of the course.
22. The Open University report that, had
the proposed funding changes been in place in 2007, 35% of those
students who recently passed a particular Open University course,
"The Environmental Web", a component of the two degrees
referenced above, would have been adversely affected.
This course covers the whole of environmental issues, from climate
change to biodiversity.
Equality and Diversity
23. 25% of all of the students registered
for ecology courses at the Open University possess an ELQ and
so would be negatively affected by changes to funding provision.
44% of these students are women.
The European Commission reported in 2006 that although 40% of
PhD students in the natural sciences are women, this decreases
to only 11.3% at higher academic levels, in professorial, research
director and other senior roles.
Women should be encouraged to further develop their careers in
science, engineering and technology (SET), at all stages, not
dissuaded from returning to the sector due to the barrier of higher
fees, a consequence of the proposed ELQ policy.
24. Courses for women returning to SET occupations,
such as that run at the Open University, in conjunction with the
UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, will be seriously compromised
by the proposed changes to ELQ funding. The course acts to build
women's confidence and to put them in touch with role models,
mentors and resources which could help them to further their careers.
Such courses are invaluable in fostering diversity within SET,
recognised by the Government as contributing to the economic competitiveness
of the UK.
Over 500 women have completed the course, 150 of whom have moved
into employment, training or further study.
25. Both the BES and IoB strongly urge the
inclusion of pre-emptive measures to protect the Open University
and Birkbeck College, University of London, from any adverse consequences
of the proposed changes. Full cost fees for environmental courses
at the Open University and Birkbeck would seriously damage recruitment,
and so damage the plurality of provision of environmental education
currently enjoyed in the UK.
26. The British Ecological Society is pleased
for this response to be made publicly available and will be publishing
it on our website: www.britishecologicalsociety.org.
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