University Marine Biological Station Millport
Rôle of UMBSM
The University Marine Biological Station Millport serves an essential rôle in respect of higher education in marine biology. It is also a dynamic centre for research in marine ecology and environmental management, fisheries biology and marine microbiology. It is, as generations of students and scientists, and innumerable visitors, have experienced, a place of enormous potential. Above all, it was located, as a result of experience, in what is probably the best area for marine biological research and teaching in the country. The variety of habitats (rocky shores, sandy beaches, sea-lochs, estuaries, islands, and deep sea bed), all within the shelter of the Firth of Clyde, is unknown in any other suitable area, and the diversity of species (resulting from this, and the influence of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift) unsurpassed. Its clear waters and sheltered location also make it ideal for research using SCUBA diving which, in recent years, has become not only an essential tool for marine ecology, but an extremely popular pastime.
An enormous upsurge in interest in the marine environment and marine life is now coinciding with a global crisis in the state of the marine environment and resources. There is thus both an urgent need, and a growing demand, especially from existing and potential students, to learn more about the marine environment and how it should be managed. Thus we believe that the Marine Station has a continuing and indeed expanding rôle to play.
To further develop the Marine Station as the National Centre of Excellence
for tertiary-level Marine Biology field teaching.
To develop The Marine Station as an Internationally Recognised
Focal Point of cutting-edge research into topical issues in Marine Biology,
Microbiology, Ecology and Environmental Management.
To maintain The Marine Station as a site which the general public can visit
in order to gain insight into the nature of marine life and awareness of
marine environmental issues.
The importance of field courses
To further develop the Marine Station as the National Centre of Excellence for tertiary-level Marine Biology field teaching.
To develop The Marine Station as an Internationally Recognised Focal Point of cutting-edge research into topical issues in Marine Biology, Microbiology, Ecology and Environmental Management.
To maintain The Marine Station as a site which the general public can visit in order to gain insight into the nature of marine life and awareness of marine environmental issues.
Training in fieldwork, and in the field, is essential to the competence and employability of any "whole-organism" biologist, especially any ecologist or environmental manager. Fieldwork experience is essential if students are to be able to detect and recognise plants and animals in their natural habitat, and to use established fieldwork methods, that are often more difficult to implement in the field than might be anticipated. Fieldwork courses also provide invaluable training in aspects apart from the obvious methodological and taxonomic ones. Most students need practice in order to be able to work comfortably, confidently and safely away from the built environment. And for many, seeing organisms in their natural environment, often for the first time, engenders enthusiasm and concern that motivates their subsequent studies, and can transform their performance.
Fieldwork is also an ideal vehicle for teaching critical transferable skills, such as team work, project planning, risk assessment, and quality control, that are all highly valued by employers, but cannot be taught generically. Residential courses offer further benefits. Students and staff mix and get to know each other in a way that enables both learning from informal discussion and pastoral care. On campus such interaction is increasingly prevented by the highly pressurised academic workload. By contrast since students on field courses are often in the field or laboratory, together with staff, for in excess of 12 hours a day, they both learn far more, and realise the satisfaction of becoming involved in their work to a degree that otherwise rarely happens.
Since few HEIs have a good range of natural habitats, especially marine and coastal ones, on their doorstep, travel to a suitably located field station for a residential field course has been found to be the best solution. UMBSM's location on the Isle of Cumbrae has been found to be ideal for marine fieldwork teaching. The island also offers access to a selection of rich coastal and terrestrial habitats; over 500 plant species have been recorded on the island, more than in many English Counties.
Students as well as teachers recognise the benefits of field courses. In a recent survey of biology students in 6 of the universities that make use of UMBSM, 95% of them said they regarded field courses as an essential, rather than merely desirable, part of their course. 50% said their choice of university had been influenced by the availability of field courses.
The value of field courses is often highlighted by QAA (TQA) assessors, and in at least one university, a UMBSM field course has been reinstated following comment from external examiners. Government agencies have also emphasised the importance both of marine science to the UK as a maritime nation, and of fieldwork in training marine scientists (Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science & Technology, 1998).
"It is almost universally accepted that fieldwork with contemporaries,
in interaction with teaching and technical staff and post-graduate students,
outwith the normal workplace, is an invigorating and rewarding experience
for both students and staff."
The UMBSM product
The following quotes are taken from letters received by PricewaterhouseCoopers from users of the Marine Station, as part of an independent review.
“Millport allows me to provide a really good Marine Field experience for undergraduates”
“Ideal setting, relaxed atmosphere, numerous resources”
“The facilities and services ... are nothing less than excellent”
“It is reassuring to know that HEFCE have accepted the rôle of UMBSM as a national facility”
“The course I run [at Millport] is, for most students, a highlight of their college experience.”
“UMBSM is uniquely suited to our needs”
“I believe it [UMBSM] to be an excellent and unique learning environment”
“Year after year, students comment to their External Examiner that the Millport field course was academically the best part of the course, and the most enjoyable”
Please see also the extracts from customer feedback.