University transfer risks research loss

University transfer risks research loss

Prospect has called on Science Minister Malcolm Wicks to cease all discussions concerning the transfer of public sector science establishments to the university sector.

The move follows an announcement from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council that it plans to transfer key agricultural and food research establishments tto universities.

Said Sue Ferns, Prospect head of research: "The union has called on Science Minister Malcolm Wicks to cease all transfer discussions until a rigorous review of the scientific justification for change in each case has been established, including any review of the Institute of Food Research.

"We believe these are further examples of quick-fix solutions to questions regarding organisational change rather than taking a step back and examining the best approach for science.

"One of the key questions is whether all the capability – and all the jobs – will be maintained. Past experience at Horticulture Research International and the Natural Resources Institute demonstrates that once the government has transferred an organisation to a university it rapidly divests itself of responsibility for whole areas of research.

"A stated benefit of moving to a university is the increase in "critical mass". But experience has shown that academics work on whatever projects they can get funded.

"Obviously if it is a choice between closing an institute or moving it to a university, moving is the lesser of two evils. But Prospect believes that true, themed research will never be achieved without long-term strategic funding, since the research will follow the pots of money."

BBSRC plans to transfer the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, with the exception of its North Wyke research centre in Devon, to the University of Wales Aberystwyth and to seek a university partner for the Institute of Food Research.