Review of Department of Botany The Academic Quality Assurance Programme 2006-2007

An Coiste Feabhais Acadúil
The Committee on Academic Quality Improvement
The Academic Quality Assurance Programme 2006-2007
Report to Údarás na hOllscoile
Review of
Department of Botany
Review Group Visit
Follow Up Meeting
January 2007
30 -31 January, 2007
6th May 2008
This Report was compiled for members of Údarás na hOllscoile, NUI Galway and its
committees as a readily accessible but comprehensive source of information on the above
review, its context and its outcomes.
Quality Office, October 2008
Report to Údarás – Review of Department of Botany 2006-2007
1. Overview of Department
1.1 Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives can be summarised as follows:
 To provide modern teaching in plant science to the highest international standard
possible as part of the BSc, MSc and PhD programmes of the Science Faculty
 To advance botanical knowledge by conducting research to the highest international
standards possible and by publishing this research.
 To partake in the wider University effort to advance and disseminate knowledge by cooperation with other Departments, Faculties, public and private bodies.
 To contribute to local life-long education and general economic health of the region.
 To ensure a high standard of Health and Safety for all staff and students of the
Department in accordance with national legislation.
 Maintain and improve the Botany Degree
 Interact with staff in cognate areas, for example within and across new schools, develop
courses which contribute to new degree programmes.
 Attract more research funding and increase research outputs.
1.2 Background
Botany is one of five Departments based within School of Natural Sciences in the College of
Science at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The Department has a strong tradition in
teaching and research in areas relating to the environment including freshwater and marine
aquatic systems, wetlands including bogs, fens and wet heaths, and the study of long-term
environmental change.
The Department is responsible for a 4-year course leading to a BSc (Hons) degree in Botany. It
makes substantial contributions to denominated BSc degree courses in Environmental Science,
Marine Science and Biotechnology. It also contributes to taught postgraduate degree courses in
Archaeology (MA degree course in Landscape Archaeology) and Commerce (Masters in Rural
Departmental expertise lies in the areas of palaeo-botany, ecology, algal eco-physiology and
plant physiology/biochemistry.
1.3 Progress to since last review in 2001/2002
The Review Report of 2001/2002 recommended the appointment of new staff. The Department
now comprises only 3 permanent academic staff (previously 5) and one contract staff
(previously 2), 2 technicians (previously 3) and one part-time administrative assistant.
 The Professor of Botany is no longer in the Department but is a full-time director of MRI
 One temporary Teaching Assistant has been made a full-time member of staff
 The position of Head of Department is currently occupied in an administrative capacity
by the Dean of the Faculty of Science, who is not a botanist.
 A quarter of Departmental teaching is carried out by contract appointment.
Report to Údarás – Review of Department of Botany 2006-2007
Physical Facilities
The Review Report of 2001/2002 recommended the need to invest in refurbishment of the
Botany laboratories. Progress to date includes:
 The 4th year and postgraduate laboratory has been subdivided into 3 smaller spaces.
 A seminar room, a small wet-lab and an office/lab space for approximately 8-10 students
have been created.
 Research space is very limited. The Herbarium room was occupied by non-Botany staff
from January 2003 to August 2006. It was due for refurbishment in December 2006.
 The total number of students has increased overall.
 All undergraduate courses were advised recently with the appointment of new staff. 2nd
and 3rd year courses were renamed.
 A recent change in 3rd year Marine Science Denominated Degree requires all marine
science students to take 6 weeks of the 3rd year Botany course.
 Despite the decrease in staffing, research income and outputs have increased over the last
few years, together with the number of postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate
 Close research links have been formed with the two major research institutes – the
Martin Ryan Institute and the Environmental Change Institute – following initial funding
through the Higher Education Authority and subsequent funding from the EPA, Marine
Institute, Teagasc, Coillte, NUI, Galway Millennium Fund, National Roads Authority
1.4 Student Numbers
The total number of fulltime equivalent (FTE) students in the Department was 120.8 in the year
2004/2005, representing an increase of 49.5% in the three years since 2001-2002.
1.5 Student to Staff Ratios
In 2004-2005, the number of fulltime equivalent (FTE) academic staff in the Department of
Botany was 4.5 giving a student: staff ratio of 26.8 (this ratio was 15.4 in 2001-02). The average
student: staff ratio in the Faculty of Science in the academic year 2004-2005 was 20.6.
1.6 Accommodation and Facilities
The core facilities of the Department are located in Áras de Brún. The Paleoenvironmental
Research Unit is located in Distillery Road. Two members of academic staff are located in the
Martin Ryan Institute Building along with shared laboratory space for Botany, Zoology & the
Irish Seaweed Centre.
Report to Údarás – Review of Department of Botany 2006-2007
2. Review Group Report Overview and Recommendations
The Review Group consisted of: Professor Mike Jones, Department of Botany, TCD.(Chair) (Chairman),
Professor Jeffrey Duckett, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University, London, Professor
Mike Williams, Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences, NUI Galway, Ms. Sinéad Hahessy, Lecturer, Department
of Nursing & Midwifery Studies, NUI Galway acting as rapporteur.
2.1 Summary and Main Recommendations from Report
The Department of Botany at NUI Galway seems to have had little opportunity to develop in the
past few years given its small size, the significant lack of University funding to modernise and
the current distinct lack of a department leader. Given these key factors, it is not surprising that
there has been little recruitment in terms of staff and students alike. This has contributed to a
questioning of the viability of the Department and, given the proposed new restructuring, has led
to a perceived fear amongst staff as to the future of Botany as a discipline. Communication
processes between key stakeholders and adjunct disciplines (MRI & ECI) has been unfavourable
despite active attempts from the Department of Botany staff. This has in some cases contributed
to low morale among staff.
The review team advises that an academic leader in the subject area be established as a matter of
urgency. This would provide much needed representation of staff in the upcoming restructuring
plans. Strong leadership is required to enhance the Department’s position in the future.
Amalgamation with other departments is probably essential for the future of Botany and the
team foresees no disadvantage to this. There needs to be a focus on forming suitable alliances to
benefit the teaching of Botany and it should be noted that this is a suitable and timely endeavour
given the University’s plans to restructure. This will require a certain amount of flexibility and
proactive planning. Cognisance of the potential for collaboration in teaching programmes needs
to be encouraged. The Department may consider a denominated degree in Botany in the future.
Main Recommendations
1. The Review Team recommend that a department head be assigned as a matter of
urgency. The designation of a leader is required to ensure that the discipline of Botany remains a
functioning component in the teaching of Biological Sciences. The significant challenges
anticipated in the process of amalgamation, requires the representation of a discipline leader.
Leadership is also required to address the organisational, managerial, teaching and learning
issues raised by this review process and to clarify the Department of Botany’s relationship with
the affiliated research institutes.
2. It appears highly likely that in the current climate of restructuring in the National
University of Ireland, Galway that the Department of Botany will be joining a large school. It is
the opinion of the review team that this will be a very positive move. The team encourage the
staff to engage most vigorously in planning and consider options for the future immediately. A
new strategic plan for the Department of Botany requires the development of an approach
specific to the discipline while remaining attentive to the environment of collaboration. This
should be developed in realistic terms.
3. With rationalisation of resources being a central premise in restructuring, the key
stakeholders should be housed in the same location. The current fragmentation has adversely
affected the Department in terms of access to facilities. More resources need to be available to
upgrade current facilities and also to prevent the demise of the Herbarium.
4. The final year course should be re-structured to allow for significantly more contact
hours between staff and students. An overall review of the fourth year component is warranted
Report to Údarás – Review of Department of Botany 2006-2007
in terms of curricular design, teaching and learning strategies and assessment procedures. Fieldwork sessions should be increased in length or frequency or both. The possibility of including
foreign field trips should be investigated. The roles of the course leaders should be articulated in
an overall teaching and learning policy, which should be underpinned by a departmental
philosophy. There is a need to revise the programme information handbooks for students to
detail all teaching and learning strategies, assessment procedures, marking criteria and marks
and standards. It is also recommended that an internal policy be developed to address the
monitoring of post graduate students.
3. Action Plans
Follow-up Meeting
Tuesday, 7th May 2008
Maureen DeValera Seminar Room, Top Floor, Aras De Brun
Present: Acting Head of Department and Dean of Science Dr Gerry Morgan, Acting Registrar Professor Jim Ward,
Vice President for Physical Resources Mr Keith Warnock, Director of Quality Professor Jim Gosling, Dr Sharon
Flynn CELT, Ms Martha Shaughnessy Research Office, Professor Mike Williams and Ms Sinead Hahessy Review
Group, Ms Sile Mhic Dhonncha, Dr Karen Molloy, Professor Michael O’Connell, Dr Zoe Popper, Dr Micheline
Sheehy Skeffington, Dr Dagmar Stengel, Dr Solene Connan, Ms Caroline Sullivan (Ph.D student), Ms Caitriona
Maher (Ph.D student), Mr Ingo Feeser (Ph.D student), Ms Maureen Linnane (in attendance).
Apologies: Ms C Browne.
Action Plan for Botany:
Although the appointment of a new established professor is now accepted as essential to
the full development of Botany at NUI Galway, past experience indicates there can be no
guarantee that the appointee will be in post even by January 2009. Therefore, it is
essential that the existing staff of all categories and the acting head proceed with the
implementation of as many as possible of the actions arising from the Review Process
and present circumstances, including:
a. The provision of inputs in the preparation of the documents to be supplied to
applicants for the Professorship of Plant Science.
b. The drafting of a ‘green paper’ on options for the development of teaching and
research in Botany at NUI Galway. This should have inputs from all Botany staff
and from staff with cognate interests from the other disciplines in the new School of
Natural Sciences; possibly through one or more workshop sessions. The objective of
the ‘green paper’ will be to inform interim decisions at the levels of the discipline,
the School and the College, and to provide an input to the incoming Professor of
Plant Science. Relevant issues include:
i. Bring Botany staff together at one location.
ii. Preserving the valuable skills available through the present technical staff by
defining these skills, identifying areas of need and, most importantly by
succession planning.
c. The establishment of a formal Botany Teaching and Learning Group to address
undergraduate issues such as student work loads, greater provision of field work
activities, service learning, curricula and assessment methods that are cognisant of
the Bologna recommendations, course literature and student feedback on teaching. A
student handbook will be prepared and made available for all students at the
beginning of the next academic year, September 2008.
Report to Údarás – Review of Department of Botany 2006-2007
d. The designation of a member of staff to compile a table of teaching hours split into
defined categories (lectures, practical classes, field trips, numbers of active research
students, distinct administrative duties) for each member of academic staff; to be
used to inform workload adjustments and the allocation of new tasks.
e. A member of staff with responsibility for H&S issues has been designated, and
together with all staff will regularly update the Safety Statement, overview the H&S
aspects of activities in the discipline, and liaise with the University’s Health & Safety
Botany staff will make inputs at all possible opportunities to influence the roles and
governance of the cognate research institutes and their provision of supports and
facilities, particularly the Martin Ryan Institute and the Environmental Change Institute.
Action Plan for University Management:
1. The Registrar confirmed that two posts, an established Professorship of Plant Science
and a permanent full time lectureship were approved by APRC in April and were
approved by Údarás na hOllscoile on 16 June 2008. Botany staff can now make inputs
to the documents needed for advertising and filling these posts.
2. The Registrar and Dr Gerry Morgan (in his capacity as Dean of Science) agreed to meet
with the Botany staff during semester 1 of 2008/09 to discuss the strategic options for the
future. This will inform drafting of the ‘green paper’ referred to in 1.b of the action plan
for Botany above.
3. The Vice President for Physical Resources highlighted the substantial general
accommodation problems of the University and the inevitable ‘conflicts’ between the
needs of units wanting to bring staff together on one location. The objective of the
Buildings Office is to accommodate all of Botany (consistent with specialist needs) in
Arus De Brun so far as possible.
4. The University has developed and approved a comprehensive set of Guidelines for
Postgraduate Research, and has recently appointed a Dean of Graduate Studies. These,
along with other initiatives, will address the issues raised by the Review Group such as
monitoring the research student progress, the provision of training etc.
5. The Quality Office invites application for funds from Botany to support:
Activities related to 1.b of Action the action plan for Botany above
b. The preservation and storage of the Herbarium.
c. The development and expansion of fieldwork activities for undergraduate
students, for example safety related equipment.
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Approved by:
Acting Head of Department, Dr Gerry Morgan 1st October 2008
Registrar, Professor Jim Ward, 11th July 2008
Dean of Science, Dr Gerry Morgan, 4th July 2008
Professor James A Houghton, Head of School of Natural Sciences, 12th September 2008
Vice President for Research, Professor Terry Smith, 8th July 2008
Vice President for Physical Resources, Mr Keith Warnock, 12th September 2008
Director of CELT, Dr. Iain Mac Labhrainn, 22nd July 2008
Director of Human Resources, Mr Chris McNairney, 21st July 2008
Director of Quality
Finalised: 1st October 2008