Monday, 19 March 2012

GfGD and Parliament

When establishing GfGD, I was keen to ensure communication with policy makers, advocacy and effective lobbying formed a key part of the work we do. Geoscience can inform many aspects of policy, and it is our responsibility as geoscientists to ensure that our work is being communicated to those with influence over policy – be that Ministers, backbench MPs or other policy makers.

Last week I had a number of opportunities to engage with MPs through events taking place in London. As a representative of the Geological Society, I took part in an event ‘Voice of the Future 2012’, in Westminster. It was an interesting event, with some positive outcomes and opportunities for further engagement.

NERC Funding of MSc Courses

David Willetts MP
The first such outcome was an opportunity to challenge David Willetts MP, Minister for Science and Universities, about NERC’s decision to end all funding for postgraduate taught Masters courses. The University of Leeds has already been forced to close its Geochemistry and Hydrogeology courses, and there has been a decline in numbers for the Engineering Geology course. These courses are essential stepping stones for geoscientists wishing to move into either industry or research after their undergraduate degree, or gain skills and further qualifications if already within industry. They provide essential training and skills for many of the problems and projects the UK will face in the coming years, and give graduates the skills to engage in projects all over the world, including the developing world.

The Minister acknowledged the crucial role of postgraduate taught Masters courses, and the difficult nature of this decision. MSc courses are in a difficult position as they are on the boundary between teaching and research – and don’t fit into either budget. It was welcomed to hear him acknowledge the importance of these courses and the problems of funding them. He also pointed out that students can get Career Development Loans, and that funding from university teaching budgets could help support these courses. This aspect of the answer was far from satisfactory, and I will be writing to the Minister to further highlight and explain our serious concerns about this decision, and the impact it is already having. There was support for the kind of courses NERC used to sponsor from Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, and we will also be following up this conversation.

We are suggesting that students, and those who have previously benefitted from NERC funding for MSc courses, write to David Willetts MP and their constituency MP to express their concern at the impact this decision is having. You can find details of MP contact addresses on the internet. Letters must be polite and respectful, outlining your concerns about the impact this will have on the UK skills base, and the UK’s ability to engage in a global market.

Geoscience and Development

Andrew Miller MP (Source:
A further opportunity at the event was the opportunity to speak with Andrew Miller MP about the Select Committee inquiry into the role of science within international development. I asked the Chairman about the way in which the Department for International Development (DFID) gets its geoscience information to shape policy and projects, and how geoscientists can improve the way it communicates information to DFID, and DFID use this information, to have more effective development and humanitarian work. Mr Miller decided that this would be an ideal question to be asked to Stephen O’Brien MP, a Minister at DFID, during his evidence session during the inquiry. The evidence session will be held on the 25th June at Portcullis House, London, and is open to the public. I look forward to hearing the response of the DFID Minister to this question. It is great to have the role of geoscience in development acknowledged and discusses in this important report.

Communication to Policy Makers

Finally, the same Andrew Miller MP gave the Sir Peter Kent Lecture at the Geological Society last week, speaking about the role of geoscience in shaping public policy. He set out a clear challenge to us as geoscientists to engage in the need to improve the communication between scientists, policy makers and the public. This is something Geology for Global Development is keen to do, and keen to equip our members to do as we grow and develop.