Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Research Councils UK (RCUK)


    —  The seven UK Research Councils are the largest public funders of research in the UK, investing over £3 billion per annum in research, training and knowledge transfer across a broad spectrum of research areas. The Councils have a UK-wide remit.

    —  The central criterion for funding of research is academic excellence which is identified by the Councils through thorough and detailed peer review. In 2006-07 around 3% of total Research Council research grant funding to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) was awarded to HEIs in Wales.

    —  The Research Councils also fund training of postgraduate students. These funds are also awarded on the basis of excellence. In 2006-07 around 5% of the postgraduate students studying in the UK were enrolled at HEIs in Wales.


  1.The seven UK Research Councils are the largest public funders of research in the UK, investing over £3 billion per annum in research, training and knowledge transfer across a broad spectrum of research areas. The seven Research Councils are:

    —  Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

    —  Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

    —  Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

    —  Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

    —  Medical Research Council (MRC)

    —  Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

    —  Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC)

  2.  Each Council is an independent Non-Departmental Public Body established by Royal Charter and sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). The Councils are funded by DIUS with an allocation from the Science Budget. Details of the funding provided for the present Spending Review period (2008-11) are available in the Science Budget Allocations published by DIUS.[54]

  3.  The Research Councils fund research in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), their own Research Institutes and some Independent Research Organisations. The Councils have a UK-wide remit.

  4.  Research Councils UK (RCUK)[55] is the strategic partnership of the seven Research Councils. Through RCUK the Councils work together to deliver their shared missions and objectives. The memorandum is submitted by RCUK on behalf of the seven Councils.


  5.  The Councils, broadly speaking, employ two approaches to distributing funds for research. The first is driven by ideas for fruitful research topics generated by the research community and is known as response mode. In the second approach, Councils, in consultation with their research communities and other stakeholders, identify strategically important areas of study and commission research within these areas. This is known as directed or programme mode, and in some cases this involves multidisciplinary research that crosses the boundaries between the Councils. In both cases the central criterion for funding of research is academic excellence which is identified through thorough and detailed peer review.

  6.  As a result of this fundamental commitment to fund excellent research wherever it is being carried out within the UK, the Councils do not allocate funding on a regional basis. This means that the distribution of Research Council funding between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales varies from year to year depending on the quality of research proposals received. The distribution of funds for research by the seven Research Councils during financial year 2006-07 is provided in Table 1. This shows that around 3% of funding to HEIs by the Research Councils was directed to Welsh HEIs, although there is considerable variation between Councils, with a range of 2-8%. For comparison, the proportion of UK academic staff employed by Welsh HEIs was around 5% in 2004-05 (the last year where data is currently publicly available).[56]

  7.  Research Council support for research includes the provision of facilities accessible to researchers UK-wide. A large part of STFC's remit is to provide such facilities, and NERC also funds a range of services and facilities[57] which researchers eligible to apply for NERC research funding can apply to use, irrespective of their location in the UK.


  8.  The Research Councils also provide funding for postgraduate research students, provided as either grants to individuals or block grants to HEIs. Students are selected on the basis of excellence, normally by HEIs themselves. Data on the location of postgraduate students within the UK are available from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)—in summary, in 2006-07 around 5% of the postgraduate students studying in the UK were enrolled at HEIs in Wales.[58]

  9.  In 2006 the RCUK-supported UK GRAD programme[59] published "What do PhDs do? A regional analysis of first destinations for all UK-domiciled PhD graduates".[60] This document is an excellent source of information concerning postgraduate study in Wales (see pages 87-93) including the split between disciplines and career destinations.

  10.  A policy secondment scheme for postgraduate students has enabled two students funded by NERC to spend three months working in the Members' Research Service of the National Assembly of Wales during the 2007-08 academic year, and further such secondments are planned for 2008-09.


  11.  In addition to funding research at HEIs, three Research Councils (BBSRC, MRC and NERC) also support their own research institutes. NERC operates at two sites in Wales (Bangor and Cardiff). Prior to 1 April 2008 BBSRC operated the Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research based at Aberystwyth—this operation has recently transferred to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor

  12.  The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) at Bangor is one of four[61] research facilities operated by CEH across the UK to deliver research in land and freshwater environments. The Bangor facility, which in 2008 has a staff complement of 30, contributes to the overall science aims of CEH as laid out in its science strategy and delivers this in partnership with a range of Welsh, UK and international research organisations and funders. It responds to specific research needs of Wales through directly commissioned projects and by contributing to the Welsh environmental research and policy community through a range of joint initiatives.

  13.  NERC contributed £3.6 million in capital investment for the Environment Centre Wales (ECW) opened in Bangor on 15 February 2008 by the Prime Minister. The new £7 million centre of excellence for environmental science co-locates the scientific expertise of CEH and Bangor University in a partnership to deliver new research working across traditional science boundaries. ECW also houses the newly established "Wales Environment Research Hub".

  14.  Further details of activities carried out by the CEH Bangor are provided in Annex A.

British Geological Survey, Cardiff

  15.  Work undertaken at the British Geological Survey (BGS) Cardiff Office includes a portfolio of SB, contract research (CR) and co-funded projects designed specifically to:

    —  investigate the geological evolution of Wales;

    —  maintain and improve the BGS knowledge base regarding the geology of Wales; and

    —  provide expertise and gather data which allow BGS to meet the needs of Welsh stakeholders including central and local government in Wales, Environment Agency (EA) Wales and Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), as well as national UK government departments and NGOs.

  16.  The office runs a Welsh enquiry service which deals with requests for geoscience information and advice from both public and private sector bodies, as well as members of the public. An additional function of the office is to promote the relevance of earth science research and information in the context of the Welsh Assembly Government's strategy and policy for sustainable land use planning and development in Wales, and as a part of the wider BGS/NERC effort to raise awareness of national and global environmental issues with the general public.

  17.  Currently five earth scientists, led by the Chief Geologist Wales, are based at the BGS Cardiff site; a further five members of the core Wales team are stationed at other BGS sites. In addition to its Wales enquiry service, the office is a point of sale for BGS products; it also serves as the principal route in Wales by which stakeholders can access the broader spectrum of BGS services and expertise based at other UK sites.

  18.  Further details of activities carried out by the BGS Cardiff office are provided in Annex B.

Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth

  19.  Until April 2008, Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) was a BBSRC sponsored institute, employing 280 scientific and technical staff with an annual income of £17 million. Its research programme included work on genetics and the environment that focuses on grassland land-use systems that lead to a sustainable rural economy; a healthy environment; and a safe and high-quality food chain. IGER has been actively transferring the benefits of its expertise to industry, including new opportunities in the energy, pharmaceuticals and environmental monitoring sectors.

  20.  On 1 April 2008, the Welsh-based sites of IGER merged with Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University to become the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS). The merger will be accompanied by new investment in facilities and people to create an enlarged multidisciplinary centre of excellence for research and education in sustainable land-use, and a new driving force supporting biological sciences, agriculture and the environment. The merger, which is supported by BBSRC, the Institute's Governing Body and the Councils of Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities, will build on expertise in innovation, enterprise and teaching, presenting an outstanding opportunity to consolidate and enhance the scientific contribution of Aberystwyth worldwide.

Table 1

    Research grant funding to HEIs1 in 2006-07, £000s (% of UK total)

    AHRC     BBSRC     ESRC2     EPSRC     MRC     NERC     STFC3   Total

48,383 (80)250,307(84) 118,938(85)679,883 (82)174,520(83) 61,124(83)92,110 (81)1,627,189(83)
N Ireland2,238(4) 328(0.1)932 (1)15,456(2) 1,710(1)181 (0.2)259(0.2) 19,194(1)
Scotland6,911(11) 42,383(14)11,229 (8)114,803(14) 30,410(14)9,821 (13)12,738(11) 263,767(13)
Wales2,761(5) 5,396(2)8,517 (6)18,455(2) 2,726(4)2,726 (4)9,128(8) 54,308(3)

Source: Research Council Annual Reports for 2006-07

1.  This table does not include the funding provided to Public Sector Research Establishments (including the Research Councils own Institutes).
2.  Figures for ESRC include funding for research and training.
3.  STFC was formed in April 2007 following the merger of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratories of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and the figures in this table are the sum of those for PPARC and CCLRC for 2006-07.

Annex A



  CEH does not allocate science funding on a regional basis but according to its three science programmes which deliver its science aims. However, direct allocation on a regional basis is used to support the non-science costs of running each facility. A rough calculation puts the total funding by CEH/NERC at Bangor at approximately £0.6 million of the £1.8 million annual turnover. The remaining £1.2 million income is won from a range of stakeholders such as Defra, the EU and the National Assembly for Wales. This allocation has been roughly stable over the past five years.


  The "Wales Environment Research Hub" coordinates environmental research and evidence gathering in Wales to inform Welsh Assembly Government policies and actions.[62] It is funded by a consortium of environment research users and providers in Wales including CEH which provides approximately 10% of the annual running costs at £15k per annum.


  CEH Bangor supports NERC's remit for training through co-supervision of 10 PhD students each year and contributes to Masters level teaching within Bangor University.

Annex B



  BGS operates through science programmes and does not directly allocate Science Budget (SB) to Wales except to support specific Geology and Landscape activities that relate wholly to Wales. In 2008-09 these have been allocated £469k.


  Between 2001 and 2006 BGS received an annual £40k grant from the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to support the BGS mapping programme in mid Wales (£200k in total). Other major WAG-funded contract research projects undertaken over the past five years include the production of a Coal Resources Map for Wales (£80k); grants from the Assembly-administered Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund supporting BGS involvement in a study of the impact of sand and gravel dredging on marine habitats in the Bristol Channel (£448.5k) in partnership with the National Museum of Wales and Bangor University; as well as the Fforest Fawr Geopark initiative (£101k over two years), and the recently approved audit of Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS) in south-east Wales (£297k over three years).


  In the past five years BGS has offered support funding for two CASE studentships based at the Centre for Glaciology at Aberystwyth University. BGS, together with WAG, EA Wales and CCW, co-funded the project "Modelling and predicting future flood risk in Welsh river catchments" undertaken in collaboration with the River Catchments and Processes Research Group also based at Aberystwyth. The results of this research informed the published WAG policy on "Development and flood risk" which utilises BGS data in the guidance it provides.


  Outreach activities are an important component of the Cardiff-based work and supporting and promoting geodiversity initiatives in Wales forms a key aspect. BGS is one of the core partners, with Brecon Beacons National Park and Cardiff University overseeing the development of the Fforest Fawr Geopark. Cardiff based staff participate on this geopark's Management Group and Partnership Board and are also aiding the CCW and county council with their geopark initiative for Anglesey.

54 Back

55   See for further details. Back

56   Source: Data published on websites of Higher Education Funding Council for England (; total number of academic staff at HEIs in the UK) and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (; total number of academic staff at HEIs in Wales). Back

57 Back

58   Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Back

59   See for further details. Back

60   Available from Back

61   Four under the new CEH structure, once current reorganisation has been completed. Back

62 Back

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