A chance to find out about the activities hosted by the different RSC Networks. From the 35 Local Sections and 75 Interest Groups to RSC Reps and International Sections, this blog should give you a taster of the 500 events organised each year by the various RSC Networks for both RSC members and the public. If you've recently held an RSC event and would like to contribute to the blog, email: networks@rsc.org.

Post-graduate Training, Parliament, Funding Bodies, And The RSC

Way back in December 2011 the RSC answered a call for evidence from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee upon the issue ‘Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects’. Our response was wide ranging but we placed emphasis on a few key points.

  • The skills pipeline
  • Funding and investment
  • Postgraduate training
We noted that the flow of students into STEM degrees is essential, and asked that considerations be made to ensure that this is not adversely affected by drivers of HE choice such as the AAB+ policy.
We raised concern in the practical and mathematical skills of first year undergraduates are often found lacking by those teaching Chemistry degrees.
We highlighted the expense to a university of running an undergraduate STEM course, and asked that adequate capital funding be made available to maintain teaching facilities and laboratories.
And we celebrated the successes of doctoral training centres (DTCs), but raised the issue of national coverage – as the removal of project studentships, in favour of those provided by DTCs, has left a national system of studentship with much inequity, and uneven coverage in both subject and geographical location.

House of Lords Report
Last week the House of Lords reported back on their findings, and to a large part echoed our recommendations. Much was made in the media of their suggestion of making the study of maths mandatory post-16, and our CEO, Robert Parker, publicly welcomed this along with their recognition of the problems with capital funding.
One item that passed by without fanfare however was the Select Committee’s recommendation on DTCs, which echoed our concerns. As with our submission, the quality of training through DTCs was acknowledged, but queries were raised regarding a number of issues.
The additional cost of DTC training was said to have reduced the number of studentships funded by the EPSRC, and this combined with a removal of project studentships is thought likely to increase research concentration, and decrease the breadth of UK research. Furthermore, the inflexibility of the DTC system was noted as a barrier to providing studentships to “small-scale projects which often lead to research breakthroughs”.
The Committee came down very much in favour of research breadth, asking that a diverse range of PhD delivery models was preserved, and recommending that an “expert group” be convened to ensure that supply of studentships is sufficient to cover the breadth of research in the UK.
EPSRC Review
Late last year the EPSRC completed its mid-term review of its DTC network, and though the body of this review have not been published, a press release published by the EPSRC highlighted some of the successes and positive outcomes.
Following from that review the EPSRC is now undergoing preparations for its ‘2013 exercise’. In this exercise they will be reviewing the UK DTC network and have asked for input relating to skills gaps that exist within the current network, and specifically gaps which could be appropriately met by a DTC type approach.
The RSC will be engaging with the EPSRC on this matter aiming to respond by the end of this month. We will be addressing the strengths and weaknesses of DTCs as a delivery method on a general level, but also as the primary delivery method of postgraduate students to chemistry.
In our response we will be reiterating what both we and the House of Lords have said, but we also want to make sure that we represent the full range of views of our members. If you have any views on this matter, or have any other comments that you’d like to make, please get in touch at sciencepolicy@rsc.org.
Posted by Richard Walker on Aug 2, 2012 4:46 PM Europe/London

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