President's Letter

18 March 2016 - By: Patrick J. Hussey

President's Letter

Spring 2016

Welcome to the Spring Bulletin. I hope you enjoyed our last issue. Our re-branding is almost complete and it has been a great pleasure to work with the specialist design agency, Purpose and their team (Stu, Harry and Alex). Together we have created something quite different and it has had much praise across the SEB membership. There will be tweaks of course and all your constructive comments are being taken on board. Sabina in the SEB office has been the driver here and we thank her for all her effort on this project. As I write this, I am not even sure what colour the next bulletin will be but I know it will be bold!

In the autumn of 2015 three important papers were published: the Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015, the Higher Education Green paper and the Nurse Review. All have a considerable effect on the scientific community in the UK. There is some good news in the Spending Review in that it was better than expected; the £4.7billion flat cash resource funding budget will be protected in real terms increasing by £500 million by the end of this Parliament. Unfortunately, this is still lower than what the budget would have been had the budget been maintained in real terms since 2010. Also announced was that the resource budget would include a £1.5billion Global Challenges fund to ensure that UK Science takes a leading role in addressing the problems faced by developing countries. Other elements of the review see that the capital budget (buildings and equipment) will be maintained and protected until 2020/21. This is good news as there had been threats of significant cuts in this budget. So overall the research budget (including resource and capital) will be maintained. This might all sound positive, however the cost of experimental science is increasing and our international comparators are continuing to invest, which begs the question, “Is this enough for UK science?”

The winners take it all?

The HE Green paper was published in November 2015 - quite a lengthy paper which universities will take time to digest and absorb. Just for clarification, a government Green paper is a consultation paper and in this particular case the consultation process closed on 15th January 2016. The government is expected to respond to this consultation in the Spring. The HE Green paper includes proposals to improve the quality of teaching, widening participation, enhancing student choice and value for money. To this end the teaching rival of the Research Excellence Framework (REF, which will likely be delayed until 2021), the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is discussed and how this will evolve over time.  Undoubtedly TEF, or aspects thereof, will inform national league tables and universities continue to compete to maintain or improve their position annually. So the question is “Are league tables important?” Unfortunately, even though we all hate them, they are important. The higher up you are, the more likely you are to attract the best students and the best academic staff, who you will expect to produce the best outputs (in terms of research, teaching and delivering a high quality student experience). There is no doubt though, that with the introduction of TEF and the continuation of REF, there will be significant pressure brought to bear on universities and on their academic staff over the coming years.

In ending this short note (I have only been given 600 words this time!), I do wonder how universities outside the UK fare in such government-led Higher Education reforms. I would be very interested in discussing this at our Brighton meeting this year if you would like to seek me out. 

Patrick Hussey,
Honorary President


Category: Member News
President - Patrick Hussey- Thumbnail

Patrick J. Hussey

Patrick is the Honorary President of the SEB.

Patrick holds the Chair of Plant Molecular Cell Biology in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham. He has been a member of SEB since 1983. In 2001 he became a Group Convenor for the Cell Section and then Head of the Cell Section in 2009.  He was then elected as Vice-President of the Society in 2013, and is now the Society's President for the 2015-2017 period. 

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