Memorandum submitted by the University of Reading (SFS 21)

To the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

1. We are pleased to accept the invitation to contribute in writing to the above inquiry as a University that has a wide range of activities that potentially contribute to the security of food supplies up to 2050. We were recently ranked 8th in terms of world agricultural research institutions (Appendix 1[1]) and have a breadth of expertise including agricultural science, horticulture, food science and technology, soil science, consumer behaviour and marketing, and agrarian development worldwide. Similarly, in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, the University of Reading submitted 93.1 Full-Time Equivalent research staff in Agriculture and Food.

2. Our response covers two of the requested areas, the science base and the provision of education and training, as these constitute part of our core business. Despite the University of Reading's maintenance of a strong land-based research capability, the inquiry needs to be aware of the closures of research facilities elsewhere across the UK over the last three decades. Such closures have not occurred solely in the public-funded sector, but also occurred in commercial agricultural science research. Indeed, a great deal of agri-science business in the UK is now represented by multinationals based outside the UK. Many such multinationals do not operate significant agricultural science research activity within the UK (although dissemination activities do continue), and even for those that do continue some of their research activity within the UK the majority of significant investment decisions are taken well beyond our shores. This is not a criticism of such multinational companies. Indeed, the university works well with several multinationals in relation to each of research and training. However, DEFRA and other UK government departments may have limited influence on the strategic research direction of these major players.

3. The University's Faculty of Life Sciences is particularly concerned about the future availability of both UK research scientists and in relation to leadership in the land-based sector that will ensure our competiveness and ability to explore new options to ensure the sustainability of food supplies in the medium to long-term, within the UK and beyond .This issue may become more serious comparatively rapidly, because the greatly-diminished supply of young agricultural scientists over the last decade or more has not yet been especially visible to society at large because traditionally agricultural scientists have a commitment to their subject throughout their working lives. Accordingly, the availability of researchers in the agricultural sciences has remained comparatively high. This has been a function of the demography of agricultural scientists, whereby large numbers were trained in the several decades after the Second World War. Many of that post-war generation of agricultural scientists have retired (or were compulsorily early retired) but have continued to contribute to agricultural science and its dissemination by working as (often self-employed) consultants. I suggest that that generation's substantial contributions will now diminish rapidly and quickly as they seek to retire fully.

4. In relation to new recruits into areas that will ensure food security, the University of Reading continues to run undergraduate programmes in a wide range of areas of great importance to food security and to continue to attract well-qualified students on to these programmes. However, recruitment of well-qualified students with Science A Levels (etc) onto such programmes is difficult because of: a) the reduction in the popularity of science in many schools; and b) a less flattering image of agriculture within society in general, and especially amongst young people, compared to the immediate post-war period.

5. Another supply of agricultural scientists and leaders comes from those who study pure science first degrees, such as biology, and who then study applied Masters level programmes relevant to food supply and sustainability. Again, the University of Reading has a range of offerings in this area - although it is increasingly difficult to encourage high-quality graduates on to these programmes. This has led over time to the withdrawal of our MSc programmes in the areas of, for instance, Crop Physiology, Plant Breeding and Animal Science.

6. In the several decades after the Second World War, government (e.g. the MAFF postgraduate scheme) and industry (e.g. the MMB research studentships) funding supported three-year agricultural and food postgraduate research studentships substantially. These two particular schemes, and many similar ones, ended some time ago. Limited funding does remain available, but is a fraction of that available previously. If there were a single, positive, outcome possible from your inquiry then we would suggest that you examine closely the erstwhile MAFF postgraduate scheme for the agricultural sciences (which in my opinion was very successful) with a view to DEFRA resuming this activity. Your analysis might well indicate that it would be justified solely from the point of view of both DEFRA's and the FSA's future agri-food science staffing needs from 2015, or earlier, onwards.

7. Finally, may we also suggest that you treat any data on numbers in education or training in the agricultural sciences with a degree of caution, simply because it is often not sufficiently detailed. For example, a student studying equine management is less likely to contribute to food security that one studying agriculture. However, the national data available (e.g. "land-based studies") tend not to discriminate at this level of detail.

I trust this communication will be of assistance to you.

Yours faithfully

Professor Richard Ellis

Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences

University of Reading

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