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University of London expected to close Scottish marine biology centre

A marine biology station on the Isle of Cumbrae, off the west coast of Scotland, could shut next year after the Higher Education Funding Council for England decided to stop funding it.

A spokesman for the University of London, which runs the University Marine Biological Station, Millport, told Research Fortnight in an email on 21 December that if no solution is found to “secure the long term viability of the station, it is expected that the decision to close it will be taken at the University’s Board of Trustees meeting on 30 January”.

The station trains between 1,500 and 2,000 marine biology students from a range of UK and European universities each year, and receives around £450,000 annually from HEFCE.

However, following an external report on the station commissioned by HEFCE and co-funder, the Scottish Funding Council, HEFCE decided to phase out this funding. The SFC is yet to announce whether it will continue funding the station.

The station’s deputy director, Fiona Hannah, told Research Fortnight that talks about future capital investment between the Universities of London and St Andrews—which provides academic leadership, but no funding, to the station—had “reached an impasse”.

A spokesman for the University of St Andrews said its involvement “was predicated on the firm understanding that there would have to be major capital investment in Millport by other parties to make good on 40 years of under-investment. St Andrews does not have such capital resources to invest in this facility”.

The potential closure of the station, and the associated loss of employment for its 29 full-time employees, has met much opposition on the island, which has a population of less than 1,500.

“The station closing will have a devastating [economic] impact on the island so there’s been a groundswell campaign raised by the islanders themselves,” says Hannah. “We have a huge belief in the importance of the station. We had hoped that with the involvement of St Andrews we would be able to improve its research side, which would have increased jobs in the island.”

Kenneth Gibson, the Scottish National Party MSP for Cunninghame North, raised the issue with the Scottish government. He is expected to meet Scotland’s education minister in the new year to discuss the future of the station.