RGS-IBG Comments on statements in the press and on websites
The Society wishes to clarify the following statements that have been reported by others
publically either through the media or on websites relating to the issue.
Reported Statement 1
The Society has influenced the outcome of the vote by including the views of the President in
his covering letter with the voting papers.
The Society appointed Electoral Reform Services (‘ERS’) as independent advisors and
scrutineers of the whole SGM process for reasons of fairness and transparency.
The SGM papers provided to Fellows - notice of meeting, two 500-word statements, letter from
the President, ballot paper – were reviewed by ERS as an important part of the process. ERS
has confirmed that it is satisfied that the content of the SGM papers, and the Society’s overall
handling of the SGM process to date, is in accordance with accepted electoral practice and the
Fellows have properly been notified as to how their proxy vote will be assigned if it is given to
the President. As required in the Bye-Laws, Fellows are able, if they wish, to appoint a named
Fellow as proxy on their behalf. As regards the President of the Council himself, he has urged
Fellows to vote whatever their views, but it is incumbent upon him, in his capacity as
President, to make clear what the position of the Council is with regard to the resolution. This
is both fair and transparent.
Reported Statement 2
The supporters of the resolution have been forbidden from circulating material putting their
case to Fellows.
This is not so.
As mutually agreed with Electoral Reform Services, the Society and those calling for the
resolution have each included statements, of equal length, within the voting papers sent to
every eligible Fellow. Each statement references their respective websites for more
Reported Statement 3
The Royal Charter states that the Society must carry out “at its own expense, various
According to our legal opinion, the Society is not required to carry out our own
expeditions or multi-disciplinary research projects.
None of our activities are prescribed, nor should they be if the Society is to continue to be
responsive, innovative and forward looking. What the Society is required to do is ‘advance
geographical science’, something we have held true to since 1830. The Charter gives elected
trustees the freedom and flexibility to decide how best to do that at any particular time.
The Society has throughout its history supported the generation of new knowledge through
research and scientific expeditions in three broad ways: by grant giving and loaning of
equipment; by lending its name as endorsement; and by organising, funding and running its
own expeditions. The manner has varied over time according to the circumstances.
Reported Statement 4
The Royal Charter ‘envisions’ the Society carrying out its own expeditions
The Royal Charter (1859) states what the Society was doing at the time it was awarded
as evidence that we were an institution that merited a Royal Charter for ‘the
advancement of geographical science’.
There is no requirement or implication that the Society should continue with the activities
listed in perpetuity. Our legal opinion has confirmed this.
Reported Statement 5
This is a rare opportunity for Fellows to be consulted
We planned a five year review of the new enhanced grant strategy in 2004 and it will
take place this summer. Fellows will be consulted, as indeed they have over the last
two strategic plans.
The Society’s approach to how it supports the generation of new knowledge will continue to
be evaluated and reviewed, as a regular process along with other aspects of the Society’s
strategy. The five year review that was planned at the time the enhanced grant-giving was
fully introduced will take place later this summer. Fellows will be given the opportunity to
contribute. Those calling for the resolution were invited, in 2008, to contribute to this review,
but instead decided to call a vote of the Fellowship as a whole.
The same applies to the Society’s strategic planning as a whole every five or six years. It is a
process that is inclusive of all committees, the staff, all Fellows, and key external stakeholders.
Such an inclusive process was introduced with the formulation of the Society’s first formal
strategy in 1998, and followed in the same manner for the 2005 strategy. Prior to 1998, with
the exception of the ‘Forward Look in 1987, decisions were largely taken with little reference
to the membership.
Reported Statement 6
“The RGS has not mounted an important expedition for more than 10 years”
The point is are we supporting the generation of new knowledge; the answer is yes we
are and in ways that address more issues across the breadth of geography and the
world, that are more suited to the research and funding environment of the 21st Century,
and that meet the needs of scholars.
The Society’s last major field research project ran until 2001. Instead of supporting single
large projects we have, since then, supported a larger number of smaller projects, by
established researchers, in many more places and across the breadth of the discipline. We
have funded more than £450,000 worth of projects undertaken by established researchers
since 2005. The evaluation of that approach has long been planned to take place this summer.
The change in approach post 2001 was consulted on, and was supported by the Expeditions
and Fieldwork Committee, by the Research Committee, the Council, and by the majority of
researchers who commented. Leaders of the former large field projects were individually
consulted. There were sound reasons behind the change in approach.
Reported Statement 7
The Society expeditions taking place between 1977 and 2001 “all broke even or made a
profit” and “sponsored projects did not, and would not, use considerable Society overheads”
The Society’s expeditions properly tailored their field activities within the funds raised,
but as far as we can tell from the available records few contributed to the not
insignificant costs of Society staff time and overheads on these projects.
Until 1994, the income and expenditure of the projects was not reported through the Society’s
published and audited accounts, so the statement is not readily capable of being verified.
While we believe that a minority of projects returned surplus funds, many of the field research
programmes had significant difficulty fundraising, as reported not infrequently in Finance
Committee papers, and some failed to reach their target budget. Fundraising generally went
on throughout the duration of the projects and at times, truly heroic efforts were put in so as to
ensure that direct costs of projects were covered.
The significant cost on the Society’s staff time appears from the records we have, not to have
been generally covered by the funds raised, and nor were the costs on overheads. The
Society’s Finance and General Purposes Committee requested in 1988 that the research
programmes include in their budgets, and fundraise for, a 10% allowance to cover Society
overhead expenses. The available evidence that there is since then indicates that did not
Reported Statement 8
The Society expeditions taking place between 1977 and 2001 “added immeasurably to
The evaluation of these large field programmes, in 2001, reported that “some were
successful, some less so”. There is no reason to suggest that these contributed more
to scientific knowledge than the Society’s current approach.
All projects did result in scientific publications. Some were highly productive with lasting
results today. Especially worthy of note is the Maraca project. Some, as with all research
endeavour, were less productive and lasting. The projects need to be seen in perspective. As
Andrew Goudie, Honorary Secretary of the Society, the leader of the Karakoram project and
heavily involved in two other Society large field programmes says in his letter to Country Life:
“Some of the big RGS projects did excellent work, but they became increasingly costly, time
consuming, and burdensome on host countries, were too large and diffuse in objectives, and
suffered donor fatigue. Academics became unable to devote the time needed, owing to
research assessment pressures.
Large field projects were not the only way, or indeed the best way, to further geographical
science, and there was no particular virtue in getting people into the field en masse. The RGS
now has a highly successful and cost-effective approach that lets smaller groups do detailed,
clearly defined and innovative scientific field investigations. This is entirely in line with its
Charter and gets a new generation of field scientists into challenging environments”.
The Society believes it is achieving better value for money and higher rates of scientific output
from its current approach of supporting a larger number of smaller research projects on more
topics and in more places worldwide with grants. That is being evaluated further this summer.
Reported Statement 9
“More university and private expeditions and research projects were funded by RGS grants in
the 1980s than ever before or since.”
The Society is funding more projects in total today than it did in the 1980s. It is also
funding established researchers with grants of more than £125,000 p.a. as opposed to
less than £10,000 p.a. in the 1990s.
In the 1980s The Society on average funded just under 50 university and private expeditions
and research projects per year with a total of around £30,000 pa. In 2008 it funded 63
expeditions and research projects.
The majority of projects funded in the 1980s and 1990s were largely undergraduate
expeditions; these peaked in 1996. Since then demand for these has declined for a variety of
During the 1980s and 1990s few grants were available for established researchers, most
activity at this level being channelled into the large field projects.
Since 2001, instead of undertaking our own large field projects we have greatly expended
support through grants for projects by established researchers. In 2008 the Society funded
just over 60 research projects and expeditions with >£150,000. These included 31 projects by
established researchers (and 32 largely undergraduate expeditions). This is the largest ever
number of grants given to established researchers in any year. An additional 10 grants were
also awarded for independent travellers and educators.
Since 2005 we have awarded more than £800,000 in total in grants, with more than £500,000
of that for projects by established researchers.
Reported Statement 10
Sponsored projects did not reduce the Society’s fundraising capacity; and large scale
expeditions could be added alongside existing Society activities (with no detriment)
The Society’s activities are now much broader and the fundraising environment is very
different. Council’s view is that fundraising today to support major filed scientific
expeditions would have detrimental impacts elsewhere on Society activities.
We have no evidence either way as to the sponsored projects effects on time spent on, and
lost opportunities of, fundraising for other activities at the time. Such data does not exist on
Times are very different now. More organisations are seeking funds and sponsorships. The
Society now has a broad and balanced portfolio of activities across research, expeditions and
fieldwork, education, public engagement, policy and public access to its collections, across
which it seeks to spread its fundraising activity. The costs of large field programmes have
escalated. The Society is not eligible to bid for the substantial funds available in the Research
Councils as we are not a research institute.
It is therefore the Council’s considered view that fundraising for regular, large scale field
projects in the 21st Century, as set out in the resolution, would reduce the Society’s
fundraising capacity in other areas. This is both in terms of staff time for fundraising,
management of fundraising, and in ‘using up’ sources of funding that could be applied to for a
variety of purposes. This will, it is felt, impact on levels of activity in aspects of the Society’s
broad and balanced work and ultimately on reputation and standing in those areas.
Meanwhile our enhanced grant giving to support research and scientific expeditions has been
successfully fundraised for as part of our current strategy.
Reported Statement 11
To claim that the reactivation of the Society’s own research projects would jeopardise its “high
profile and strong reputation with many stake holders and members” is as surprising as it is
This is not what the Society’ s statement is saying. The point is that the Society will be
forced to reduce its impetus in, or withdraw from, some areas of activity as a result of
having to refocus its fundraising time and activity to major field research programmes.
It is this that will affect its high profile and strong reputation in those areas that experience a
reduction in activity.
Just as one example, after three years of lobbying government we finally convinced them to
support geography at school with the £2m Action Plan. In doing so, we built the Society’s
presence and respect both within government and with teachers and schools. We are now at
the heart of education developments in geography. We now have 900 schools members;
increased from fewer than 100 several years ago. The young people who develop an interest
in geography through the Action Plan - and who we then maybe support with advice, an
expedition grant etc while they are at university - will become the future lifeblood of the
Society’s membership. And this is just one area of our activity
Reported Statement 12
‘The figure of £1.5m (as the order of magnitude to fund large field research programmes
today) appears arbitrary and alarming’
This figure has been carefully arrived at, can be substantiated and, if anything, is a
From the 1970s to the 1990s the costs of the Society’s large field research programmes rose.
The last project cost £1.5m in 1997-2001. In today’s prices that is £1.95m (using the Bank of
England inflation calculator). Applying inflation to the costs of the two projects before that gets
to around £1m each in today’s prices. This is without taking account of the full economic costs
for staff, that is, paying salary for staff time, add on (NI, pension etc) and institutional
overhead costs, that would now be required but which were not at the time of the large
There have been significant changes in the research environment. Regarding costs,
universities now charge full economic costs for the time of Principal Investigators and other
staff, including meeting the costs of PhD students. Taking a modest multi-disciplinary project
of 3 years duration with nine scientists on it: the costs of 3 principal investigators for three
months each year, each with two PhD students would amount to £700,000. This is just for
staff time. Add on field equipment, travel, field vehicles, field accommodation, analytical
facilities, publication costs, conferences and workshops, Society management, etc.
The estimate of £1.5m is conservative, and chosen to be deliberately so. As those presenting
the resolution know, the former large field projects involved many more than nine scientists.
Furthermore, there are very many examples of modest field research programmes costing
between £1m and £2m from the grants awarded to university teams by the UK Research
Councils and the European Union. The budget for Pen Hadow’s latest venture, funded by
commercial sponsorship, is £3m.
Times have changed, levels of funding needed to do research have changed, and needs of
researchers have changed. The Society also has seen fit to change. Read letter by Professor
Keith Richards (PDF) or click this link http://tinyurl.com/pzhh7c
Reported Statement 13
“The concentration on the academic elements of geography, important as they are, has
diminished the Society.”
There is arguably less concentration on academic elements now than in the past given
the current breadth of Society activity; and given the fact that most of those involved in
the former large research programmes were scholars from universities and research
There is an inconsistency in this statement: most of the researchers in the former large field
projects were academics from universities and research institutes and PhD students.
Arguably the concentration on academic elements in the Society was larger then than now as
currently, in addition to supporting research and scientific expeditions, we also advance
geographical science in the areas of education, public engagement and policy. Furthermore,
the Society is the learned society and professional body for geography – we exist to advance
geography today. Finally, the Society’s governing body has for the past 30 years had
approximately 50% academics and 50% non-academic members Council.
Reported Statement 14
The merger between the RGS and IBG “brought about a change of emphasis to concentrate
on academic geography at the expense of field research.”
All aspects of geography are important to the Society. We continue to provide strong
support for field research in very many ways, and most of the funded projects are field-
based. The Expeditions and Fieldwork Committee and representatives from this
community on the Council embody the Society’s continuing commitment.
Academic geography has always been a key element of the Society’s work from our
foundation and mission to advance geographical science. Indeed it was following the
Society’s work in the 1800s that the first academic positions (Readerships) in geography in
Britain were established and part funded by the Society. One of the Society’s journals, that
currently titled The Geographical Journal, has been published for more than 175 years, and is
one of the world’s first scholarly journals for geography. The Society was also strongly
instrumental in establishing geography in schools around 1900.
After the merger took place in 1995 the Society continued its work on large field programmes
until 2001; and today, its enhanced grant-giving still largely support field-based research. The
former large field programmes for the most part involved academics and PhD students as
researchers, so the reported statement is contradictory and self-defeating. Arguably the
concentration on academic elements in the Society was larger then than now. Currently, in
addition to supporting research and scientific expeditions, we also advance geographical
science in the areas of education, public engagement and policy.
The merger offered the opportunity for the Society to consider its direction for the future, in a
changing world, while continuing to safeguard, through representation on the Council and in
their specific Committees, the interests of research, expeditions and fieldwork and the
Society’s education activities. Such representation is set out in the bye-laws and was agreed
at the time of merger.
Reported Statement 15
It has been implied that Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917venture to Antarctica was an RGS
The Society supported this venture with a grant. It was not an RGS expedition. Many of
the other examples quoted in the press were also grant supported; some were Society
The Society supported Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in 1914-1917 with a grant of £1,000.
The remaining £59,000 was raised by Sir Ernest from other sources. This is exactly the same
principle as the Society’s grant giving today. For further details of our support for those
individuals mentioned in the press, please follow this link or click the link below
For other historic examples of grant funding, endorsement and society-fundraised and led
research programmes and expeditions please follow the link on www.rgs.org/sgm
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)