Marine Biology Station threatened with closure

Oscar Peake
Jeanine Raw

marine

A marine biology research and education station in Scotland used by many Universities has had it’s annual government funding removed, and is likely to close at the end of the month – generating much protest from academics and others alike.

The University Marine Biology Station Millport (UMBSM), located in Millport on the Isle of Great Cumbrae about 25 miles west of Glasgow, may have to end its 125-year existence as its £400,000 annual grant is removed. The grant, which was awarded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to it’s owners the University of London in order to support the station, was removed at the end of 2011 and no plans to renew it have being made by the funding council.

UMBSM is a national marine biology and marine microbiology research facility that provides undergraduates and postgraduates with training in marine fieldwork. It is used by the University of Glasgow and around 30 other universities internationally.

A spokesperson from the University of Glasgow’s commented, saying: “There are strong research links with many students using the facilities for their PhD and Masters work, and collaborative projects between staff. The loss of the station would seriously weaken the educational infrastructure in Scotland; its facilities, ease of access and unique habitats simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.”

At a discussion by the University of London’s Board of Trustees on January 30th, the decision was taken to begin redundancy consultations. The official decision as to whether the Station will close has been postponed until March 20th, after redundancy talks have taken place.

In an open letter sent to The Scotsman, the argument supporting the station was put forward, purporting that the station “is a key component of the biological teaching and research capability of Scotland”. The letter was signed by six universities in Scotland, including the University of Glasgow. In session at the Scottish Parliament on the 20th December, Alex Salmond responded to questions regarding the future of the station, incorrectly stating that the station “is not actually used by any Scottish University at present”. A petition has been sent to Salmond calling for UMBSM to be kept open.

The Station is an asset to the University of Glasgow because it provides essential fieldwork experience in a number of postgraduate and undergraduate degrees. Over the period 1970-2011, 25,000 students from across the country have attended the station.

Third-year students Heather McCulloch and Jay Adair, who study on the Microbiology, Virology, Parasitology & Infectious Biology course, attended the station for 3 days in October along with the rest of their class. Mr. Adair commented: “This research station was a wonderful chance to get some first hand experience with work in the field.”

Ms. McCulloch said: “My time at Millport taught me so much. It showed how I can apply my degree to real situations and I earned valuable lab and field work experience”, adding that “it would be a terrible shame for future University of Glasgow students to miss out on the experience.”

A Westminster Early Day Motion held on the 8th of January regarding the possible closure of the station “calls on the UK Government and the Scottish Government to work together to ensure the future of the Marine Station”. The Motion currently has the signatures of 29 MPs from across the UK, from various parties. The motion claims that the station contributes about £2 million a year to the regional economy from research, employment and the influx of visitors every year. Between 1500 and 2000 students visit the station every year, sometimes for months at a time.

Peter Sumner, the President of the Marine Biology Society commented: “Personally, I cannot believe that this situation has come to pass, it makes absolutely no sense to me considering how much money the UMBSM brings to the fragile island economy of Cumbrae, or the priceless experience that they offer to the emerging future scientists that come from this institution.”

An online petition entitled “The Scottish Government: Save the University Marine Biology Station, Millport, from closure” on change.org has so far garnered over 7000 signatures, and its sister facebook page has attracted over 9000 ‘likes’, generating international interest.