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University’s leading role in post-Brexit marine science

Monday 12 March 2018

Britain’s ability to influence the European marine science agenda after BREXIT will be critical to ensuring that we remain at the forefront of international research.

Through the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) the University of St Andrews has a unique relationship with Europe. The University hosts the Directorate of MASTS which brings together the majority of Scotland’s marine science research capacity under a single umbrella.

MASTS helps to drive a culture of research innovation and cooperation across the marine science community and government in Scotland. Of increasing importance is that MASTS has the critical mass necessary to ensure that Scotland’s marine science is competitive at an international level.

The development of the new £16m Scottish Oceans Institute Gatty Laboratory at the University of St Andrews, which is due to be completed in 2019, is a clear signal that, with its MASTS partners, the University will maintain strong commitment to marine science training and research at the highest level.

The uncertainty of what BREXIT may mean in terms of access to EU research funding is a serious concern for Scotland, which has been very successful in securing EU research funding. Strong collaborations across Europe ensured that Scotland remains at the forefront of research and development. From a strategic perspective there is a need to maintain and strengthen relationships with Europe to sustain these valuable collaborations post BREXIT.

Some bodies constituted under the Council of Europe rather than the European Union offer this potential. The European Marine Board (EMB) is one such body, accepting membership limited to three representative organisations from each Council of Europe state. The Natural Environment Research Council, the National Oceanography Centre and MASTS are the UK members of the EMB.

The EU uses the EMB as a respected source of expertise and information. EMB position papers and policy briefs are known to influence the Commission. Every five years, the EMB produces an important horizon scanning report that helps guide EU marine science policy and funding. The next iteration of this document Navigating the Future V is now in preparation and MASTS will play an important role in its development.

Increasingly, academic institutions are operating on a global stage, working on “global challenges” – climate change, food and energy security – often in some of the world’s poorest countries. This work is being driven and supported by UK funding to address UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN has also just announced that 2021-2030 will be the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. At UK level there is increasing emphasis on delivering marine science which will help to underpin economic growth. MASTS is at the forefront of delivering science to support a healthier and more resilient environment as a result of better informed policies to manage human activity based on the best available scientific knowledge.

Professor David Paterson, Executive Director of MASTS, said: “Scotland is a nation with a strong marine heritage and excellence in marine science, but technology is moving forward rapidly in terms of the sustainable exploitation of marine resources, including offshore energy, fisheries and aquaculture. It is critical that Scotland maintains its innovation and leadership in these areas and international cooperation is essential, as strongly promoted by MASTS and the EMB.”

Professor Vincent Janik, Director of the Scottish Oceans Institute, commented: “MASTS is a very important alliance for the marine science community in the UK. It allows us to pool resources and expertise and has already led to a significant increase in research activities and new discoveries. The University of St Andrews has now invested in a major extension to the Scottish Oceans Institute to further our capabilities in ocean science and to provide state-of-the-art aquarium facilities that are needed for controlled climate and ecological investigations.

Caption: Architect's impression of the Scottish Oceans Institute (BMJ Architects)


MASTS members include all of Scotland’s major Universities, together with Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, The British Geological Survey and charitable bodies with interests in our seas and oceans. This powerful research pool is funded by a combination of the Scottish Funding Council and MASTS members.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office. Contact Steve Bargeton, on 01334 467310, 01334 462530, 07802 376860 or