Spending Review 2010 - HC 618Written evidence submitted by the Royal Society of Chemistry (SR 14)

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s consultation on the Science and Research Budget Allocations for 2011–12 to 2014–15.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is the UK Professional Body for chemical scientists and an international Learned Society for advancing the chemical sciences. Supported by a network of over 47,000 members worldwide and an internationally acclaimed publishing business, our activities span education and training, conferences and science policy, and the promotion of the chemical sciences to the public.

The RSC has a duty under its Royal Charter “to serve the public interest” by acting in an independent advisory capacity, and it is in this spirit that this submission is made.

RSC RESPONSE TO THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY SELECT COMMITTEE CONSULTATION ON THE SCIENCE AND RESEARCH BUDGET ALLOCATIONS FOR 2011–12 TO 2014–15

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is the UK Professional Body for chemical scientists and an international Learned Society for advancing the chemical sciences. Supported by a network of over 47,000 members worldwide and an internationally acclaimed publishing business, our activities span education and training, conferences and science policy, and the promotion of the chemical sciences to the public.

The RSC has a duty under its Royal Charter “to serve the public interest” by acting in an independent advisory capacity, and it is in this spirit that this submission is made.

The chemical sciences lie at the heart of the multi-disciplinary research needed to tackle global issues. Chemistry research supports six million jobs and enables the UK to generate £258 billion each year, or 21% of our GDP. The RSC believes that the strong case for investment in science and technology necessitates a long-term national strategy for the chemical sciences. The BIS strategy contrasts heavily with our global competitors such as China, France, Germany and the USA, who even in times of austerity are increasing investment in science and technology.

The RSC has the following comments to make:

Cuts to the teaching grants will be detrimental to the quality of education and training.

A Chemistry degree costs in the region of £10,000 per year to teach, which is unlikely to be covered even with £9,000 tuition fees.

Chemistry departments have already made significant efficiency savings. The demand for more efficiency savings could potentially compromise the quality of departmental teaching and research: unless there is a coherent strategy to cluster activities around strategic need alongside developing centres of excellence.

Deficits in teaching and research activity in UK chemistry departments may increase from current levels. In 2007–08 UK Chemistry departments operated on average with a 10% teaching deficit and with a 35.8% research deficit.

The focus on strategic priorities or grand challenges must not weaken support for fundamental research.

Cuts to quality-related (QR) funding may result in less fundamental research and fewer development opportunities for early career researchers.

Reductions in operation time at central Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) facilities will have a detrimental effect on multidisciplinary research.

For several years, chemistry has been awarded the highest number of Project Studentships—the removal of this funding immediately reduces the number of PhD students in the chemical sciences.

The current focus on excellence without an underlying regional strategy has the potential to create regions where there is no provision of the chemical sciences at an appropriate level.

Teaching Grants

1. The RSC believes that reductions in funding for both the recurrent teaching grant and the teaching capital grant will be detrimental to the quality of education and training provided in the chemical sciences. This could lead to a decline in the number of students choosing to study the chemical sciences. Since 2004, there have been sustained increases in both A-level entries and enrolments on university courses in Chemistry.

2. The RSC has reported that the average deficit on teaching income in chemistry departments in England is 10%. Outside of England, the average UK deficit is even higher (50% of teaching income) reflecting the absence of additional funding for resource intensive laboratory-based subjects. Reductions in funding could worsen this situation, leaving chemistry departments accruing even larger deficits in teaching. An additional concern is that the proposed changes in post-study work visas may put off visiting international students from coming to the UK. International student fees make up a vital and significant part of the university funding.

3. The RSC found that in 2007–08 the cost of teaching a chemistry student was on average £10,000 a year. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) currently fund Band B subjects (such as the chemical sciences) at £8,700 per Full Time Equivalent (FTE). David Willetts has suggested this government contribution will decrease to £1,400 per FTE in 2012–13. Tuition fees of £7,500 (the proposed average) will leave a deficit of around 10% per FTE. Even the maximum fee of £9,000 is unlikely to cover the cost of a chemical sciences course. Additionally, reductions in the capital budget could mean that outdated practical laboratories and equipment cannot be replaced. We have a real concern that universities may respond to these pressures in an ad hoc manner that has the potential to seriously undermine the national capability of the discipline. There is a clear need for a national strategy to support disciplines like the chemical sciences which make an essential and significant contribution to economic growth. Incorporated Master’s courses and industrial placements provide invaluable training and experience for the student of the chemical sciences, and are now considered a necessary preparation for PhD and for CChem accreditation. The future economic growth in the science industry relies on the sustained supply of high quality, and qualified individuals.

Research Priorities

4. The RSC believes that the allocation of funding for fundamental or applied research should be informed by the nature of challenges which society needs science to address. Accordingly the RSC broadly agrees with the six priority areas highlighted by BIS. Chemistry is a key underpinning science in the multidisciplinary approach required to tackle these global issues. This is highlighted in the RSC roadmap for the chemical sciences, Chemistry for Tomorrow’s World. It is vital that these priority areas build on the strengths of the UK science base, enabling research communities here to exploit the funding available.

5. The RSC believes that a focus on grand challenges must not weaken support for fundamental research that is needed to underpin solutions to these challenges. Research that contributes to capacity building but that is not immediately aligned to grand challenges must still receive funding. Innovation can stem from fundamental research as well as applied research as shown by the Nobel prize-winning graphene research at Manchester University. An evaluation of economic impact at Russell Group institutions noted that 56% of successful spin-out companies and commercialisation ventures had stemmed from fundamental research studies.

6. Scientific progress is supported by a wide range of chemical science subject areas (such as, but not limited to analytical science, catalysis, chemical biology, computational chemistry, materials chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and synthesis). The 2009 International Review of Chemistry (IRC 2009) assessed the UK as world-leading in a number of these areas. The RSC does not wish excellence in these areas to be compromised by researchers having to “fit” into a predetermined framework in order to gain support.

7. The BIS allocations are dependent on efficiency savings in 2014–15 (7% of the £4.6 billion resource funding). UK chemistry departments have already made significant efficiency savings by increasing student:staff ratios and lowering departmental space per member of academic staff. Clustering of, and/or collaboration between chemistry departments is a further step that could identify potential areas for sharing facilities that maintains the breadth of science in the UK. This clustering is likely to require a national overview that identifies the key scientific, regional and economic requirements that must be supported.

HEFCE Funding and QR Allocations

8. The RSC has identified that in 2007–08, chemistry departments operated on average at 35.8% deficit in research income. The RSC is concerned about the decrease in QR funding from both overall cuts (3% without inflation over four years), and at specific institutions due to the redistribution from 2* rated research. In addition, “top-sliced” efficiency savings on existing grants applied from 1 June 2011 could remove significant levels of funding that institutions had already ear-marked for other activities. Together, these reductions in QR funding may have a number of consequences:

Chemistry departments could seek to reduce running costs by stopping current activities funded through QR.

Fundamental research could be reduced, if QR funding is used to cover shortfalls elsewhere.

The career development of researchers could be adversely affected if less bridging funding is available to retain early career researchers beyond the scope of funding for a specific project.

The numbers of support staff or technicians could be reduced resulting in a lack of flexibility at departments.

Maintenance or servicing of existing facilities stopped to save costs.

9. BIS have stated their intention to focus resources on areas of proven excellence, and is discontinuing funding for 2* rated research. This has the potential to severely inhibit high-calibre research groups in departments that have QR resource decreased.

Funding Through RCUK

10. The RSC stresses that access to excellence in academic chemistry research is a fundamental enabler for a knowledge-based economy, and provides an important stimulus for continued inward investment. RCUK funding must maintain breadth and excellence across scientific disciplines to maximise national capability. A focus on national priorities, as defined by the RCUK Grand Challenges, must be carefully balanced with supporting the research base of the UK. The RSC believes that scientists are best placed through peer review to approve funding, and that there needs be continued consultation between the research councils, the scientific community and business to establish that the correct priorities are being set.

11. The majority of government funded chemistry research is funded through the EPSRC; however additional funding is also secured through cross-council funding. This is a reflection of the interdisciplinary nature of research in the chemical sciences. The RSC is concerned that despite a mostly universal 3% reduction in resources, each research council will deliver this budgetary reduction through different approaches. This has led to proposed budget cuts for research grants (excluding inflation) of up to 14% (EPSRC) and 9% (BBSRC) over the next four years. Including inflation increases the significance of these reductions. Within the next EPSRC delivery plans there is an increased emphasis on funding the Grand Challenge projects this will require ongoing oversight to ensure the correct balance is maintained.

12. The RSC is concerned that the decrease in operation time at central STFC facilities will have a detrimental effect on multidisciplinary research. For example, approximately 50% of users of the ISIS facility are researchers in the chemical sciences. By only operating the facility for 120 days per year (a significant decrease from 180 days historically), and also restricting the number of concurrent experiments, scientific output will not be maximised. The benefits of the capital investment in this facility, including those recently announced, will not be realised. The RSC has similar concerns for the Central Laser Facility (CLF) which is scheduled to run under-capacity.

PhD Studentships

13. PhD students are the lifeblood of the chemical sciences, carrying out a sizable proportion of research in chemistry. In 2009–10, EPSRC “Project Studentships” supported 422 Chemistry PhD students through research grants (27% of total number of EPSRC Chemistry PhD students). Responding to academic and industry demands, over the last four years the chemical sciences has been awarded the highest number of Project Studentships. The removal by the EPSRC of this funding mode from 1 April 2011 will immediately decrease the number of PhD students in the chemical sciences, and also distort the distribution of these students across the country. The chemistry community is very concerned that such a policy has been implemented without careful consideration of the impact on (i) the skills pipeline of the discipline and (ii) the remaining centres for doctoral training are the most appropriate from a discipline or regional standpoint. The long-term impact of this strategy could lead to fewer postgraduates to supply demand in industry and research who contribute to the strength of the UK economy.

Supporting Early Career Researchers

14. The RSC is concerned that the focus on funding existing excellence could impact negatively on researchers who have not yet reached that level of recognition. This includes both early career researchers (ECRs) and those located at institutions without a high proportion of 3*/4* research. At present, there is no strategy to develop such researchers into becoming internationally excellent. If ECRs are dependent on individual institutions to nurture their career, more information and guidance must be available to ensure fair access and to guard against nepotism. The RSC encourages close working between RCUK and chemistry departments in coordinating fellowships to provide support and better career development.

Diversity

15. The RSC advocates a highly diverse level of participation in the chemical sciences to enable social-mobility, to reflect diversity within society, and to produce the best science. Research conducted by the RSC indicates how gender imbalance is established from PhD studies onwards. The RSC is concerned that the removal of funding for the United Kingdom Resource Centre (UKRC) may impact negatively on diversity initiatives. In particular this programme worked to encourage women to continue in STEM careers, and although BIS proposes to “embed good practice on gender issues” through project management, at present there is no clear strategy in place to achieve this.

Collaboration with Industry

16. Industry-derived funding in the chemical sciences declined by 15% in the five years prior to 2009. In order to stimulate investment, initiatives to foster knowledge transfer and collaboration are essential. The RSC believes that the Technology Strategy board (TSB) is vital to stimulate effective knowledge transfer and to coordinate a UK-wide innovation network. In the chemical sciences, Chemistry Innovation KTN (CiKTN) provides a blueprint for coordinating initiatives across the UK. Examples include collaborative R&D projects between universities and industry, and working with locally based enterprise (eg Scottish Enterprise) to further university and business involvement. The investment of £200 million to create Technology Innovation Centres (TICs) is a welcome boost, although the RSC is concerned that the overall budget for the TSB has yet to be confirmed.

17. A mechanism to establish the TIC network structure should include the input of all stakeholders, including government, academia, research councils and industry. In particular, in creating new networks or clusters to support economic growth, consideration needs to be given to the location of any new centres. By focusing only on geographic areas of existing excellence, and without an overarching national strategy on TIC location, the RSC is concerned that regions of the UK may not benefit from this investment.

Capital Reduction

18. The RSC believes that the proposed level of capital reduction (a 66% decrease in 2011–12) , threatens the UK position as a world leader in the chemical sciences. Whilst capital funding may only represent 2.6% of the overall HEFCE grant in 2011–12 (from a previous level of 5.2%), the UK Higher Education system must be able to deliver science teaching and research facilities fit for the 21st Century. This includes the provision of modern laboratories, excellent teaching facilities to engage students, and provisions to enable internationally recognised research.

19. The IRC 2009 report highlighted the excellent state of equipment and infrastructure within UK universities. The maintenance of excellent facilities requires continual and sustained capital investment. Capital budget cuts in both teaching and research do not amount to a viable strategy to sustain this excellent infrastructure.

20. As documented by the Royal Society, decades of reinvestment were required for the UK academic scientific community to recover from the previous decline in funding and underinvestment. Between 1981 and 1987 the UK percentage of highly cited papers in Chemistry fell from 10.1% to 4.5%, indicative of the decline in British Science. In contrast, from 1999–2008, and despite a 33% overall increase in global publications, the UK maintained a 7% share of publications. The benefits of reinvestment have also been reported with market sector productivity benefitting significantly from the increase in public sector spending on research and development.

The Future of the Chemical Sciences

21. The RSC believes that the strong case for investment in science and technology necessitates a long-term national strategy for the chemical sciences. This would protect the excellent infrastructure, identify areas of strength and realise opportunities for growth through collaboration. Economic growth is directly related to strong investment in education and providing an attractive environment for industry. Provision for universities across the UK, linked with KTNs and TICs will enable collaboration, innovation and will maximise the impact of research.

22. The current focus on excellence, without an underlying regional strategy has the potential to put individual university departments at risk. This could lead to regions without provision of research and teaching in the chemical sciences at an appropriate level. The university system needs to be organised in a framework that reflects the needs of the UK population, with provision across the UK enabling access to an education in the chemical sciences for anyone with the ability and desire to study the subject. The ScotCHEM research pooling initiative demonstrates how sector driven change can improve research quality, attracting more industry funding and access to resources.

23. The RSC believes that there must be a steady supply of high quality, and qualified individuals. This will ensure the next generation is equipped with the scientists and engineers needed to tackle global challenges, as well as a wider, more scientifically-literate general workforce. It is vital that the supply of high-quality chemistry graduates is maintained to ensure the future recruitment of subject-specialist teachers. These are the people who will nurture the next generation of chemical scientists to maintain the chemical sciences’ major contribution to the UK economy.

26 April 2011

Prepared 7th November 2011