Spending Review 2010 - HC 618Written evidence submitted by the Society of Biology (SR 24)

Summary

There continue to be multiple uncertainties over the future funding landscape, especially in universities, leading to confusion and an inability to plan effectively. This is undermining the Government’s position in statements around the value of science accompanying the comprehensive spending review settlement. It is essential that the impact of the spending review is re-visited in 2012.

Main Text

The Society of Biology is a single unified voice for biology: advising Government and influencing policy; advancing education and professional development; supporting our members, and engaging and encouraging public interest in the life sciences. The Society represents a diverse membership of over 80,000—including practising scientists, students and interested non-professionals—as individuals, or through the learned societies and other organisations listed below.

The Society welcomes the Committee’s intention to review the complex evolution of the science funding environment since the Spending Review. Many forces are acting upon this sector at present including the Research Council settlements; the reduced departmental budgets available for direct commissioning of research, particularly by Defra; the abolition of the RDAs; the funding position and policies of the higher education Funding Councils, and the changes in student support arrangements arising from recommendations in the Browne Review, among others. Relatively few areas of science are immune from the impact of these multiple changes and it will be some time before the combined results are evident. For this reason we feel it appropriate to submit a short letter rather than to attempt extensive evidence-gathering at this time.

1.The Society has welcomed the support for science signalled in many Departmental statements, and encourages the underlying government position that science is a potential growth engine for the economy and an endeavour essential for national wellbeing. However, we reiterate our concern that the settlement presented science with significant and growing financial challenges.

2.We are concerned that pressure from reduced funding or reduced public and private sector investment may have negative impacts on national capacity in terms of skills and innovation. In addition we foresee significant dangers in the greatly reduced Research Council capital budgets and the increasing erosion of the value of the science settlement due to inflation. Moreover, as other countries continue to invest in science, the UK risks losing international standing. All of this comes at a time when financial and other pressures are bringing about significant changes in the advice and scrutiny function provided by arms’ length bodies, commissions and independent authorities etc. There is concern that the independent and long-range vision of many of these bodies cannot be easily recreated within the systems retained.

3.We wish to comment specifically on university science departments. Whilst some time has elapsed since the Spending Review and the Browne Review, we are concerned that terms such as “chaos” and “turmoil” continue to appear in descriptions of their funding landscape. Several reasons for this have been highlighted to us. Most Bioscience Departments can expect a reduction in their research grant and contract income from charities and government Departments and are aware that funding from Research Councils will become considerably more competitive, making it prudent to expect a reduction from this source also. University income from teaching is also highly uncertain at the moment. Submissions to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) will shortly be complete for this year, but longer-term fee structures will continue to be influenced by the forthcoming White Paper and the process of OFFA reviews. In addition the trends in student enrolment remain unknown and may be a significant determinant of the medium-term financial stability of many institutions.

4.While continued reinvigoration and improvement of the environment for science learning and advanced skill development at university and higher level colleges is to be embraced, the sense of future instability in the skills pipeline currently being reported to us is a matter of great concern. This level of uncertainty may generate indecision or overreaction, neither of which would be a welcome outcome. Many areas of science learning are intrinsically expensive to deliver, without necessarily guaranteeing higher level earnings for their graduates. Choices on the fees applied to individual courses are likely to be influenced locally but may have implications for the overall viability of departments and the national coverage of learning centres for specific skills. In addition, the different funding and charging arrangements in Scotland, in particular, are likely to have an effect and there is valid concern about the appearance of funding gaps.

5.There will likely be pressure to increase the fees applied to taught MSc courses, many of which are funded through the T component of the HEFCE budget and extra support for which from Research Councils and industry is likely to be reduced. In these circumstances, UK graduates seeking to become Masters Students may well regard these fees as a significant barrier as they do not currently have easy access to student loans and fee support and indeed will not be covered by current OFFA agreements. MSc graduates are valued by many employers across science industries and regulatory agencies and, in addition, many universities now require a master’s degree for PhD registration in line with the Bologna process. It is essential that arrangements do not present talented and ambitious UK students with a barrier to advancement at this level.

6.We would like to reiterate our position that there is a national need for high-quality bioscience graduates and bioscience research and that the challenge of maintaining quality degree programmes and research performance in a developing “market” will require the careful attention, collaboration and strategic oversight of government’s supportive agencies as well as academics. Moreover, small-scale laboratories may find it difficult to survive in an environment where high competition for grants and a change to focus on proven excellence will make it difficult to protect and nurture emerging excellence and creativity. We would encourage the Committee to re-evaluate developments in this area when there has been more time for the impact of the funding changes to bring about change, and certainly by late 2012 when there has been a full-fee student intake.

Member Organisations Represented by the Society of Biology

Anatomical Society

Marine Biological Association

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour

Nutrition Society

Association of Applied Biologists

RNID

Biochemical Society

Royal Entomological Society

Breakspear Hospital

Royal Microscopical Society

British Andrology Society

Royal Society of Chemistry

British Association for Lung Research

Science and Plants for Schools

British Association for Psychopharmacology

Scottish Association for Marine Science

British Bariatric Medical Society

Society for Applied Microbiology

British Biophysical Society

Society for Endocrinology

British Crop Production Council

Society for Experimental Biology

British Ecological Society

Society for General Microbiology

British Lichen Society

Society for Reproduction and Fertility

British Microcirculation Society

Society for the Study of Human Biology

British Mycological Society

SCI Horticulture Group

British Neuroscience Association

The Physiological Society

British Pharmacological Society

UK Environmental Mutagen Society

British Phycological Society

University Bioscience Managers’ Association

British Society for Ecological Medicine

Zoological Society of London

British Society for Immunology

British Society for Matrix Biology

Supporting Member Organisations

British Society for Medical Mycology

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

British Society for Neuroendocrinology

(ABPI)

British Society for Plant Pathology

Association of Medical Research Charities

British Society for Proteome Research

AstraZeneca

British Society for Research on Ageing

BioScientifica Ltd

British Society for Soil Science

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research

British Society of Animal Science

Council (BBSRC)

British Toxicology Society

GlaxoSmithKline

Experimental Psychology Society

Huntingdon Life Sciences

Fisheries Society of the British Isles

Institute of Physics

Genetics Society

Lifescan (Johnson and Johnson) Scotland Ltd

Heads of University Biological Sciences

Medical Research Council (MRC)

Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Science

Pfizer UK

Institute of Animal Technology

Royal Society for Public Health

International Biometric Society

Syngenta

Laboratory Animal Science Association

The British Library

Linnean Society

Wellcome Trust

Wiley Blackwell

27 April 2011

Prepared 7th November 2011