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Minutes of March 2005

 
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MINUTES OF THE COUNCIL MEETING 11 MARCH 2005 

AT 10h30m IN THE COUNCIL ROOM
 AT BURLINGTON HOUSE
 
                                                           

1.  PRESENT:  Professor K.A. Whaler (President), Dr R.C. Smith (Vice-President), Professor P.G. Murdin (Treasurer), Professor I.D. Howarth and Dr H.J. Walker (Secretaries), Dr A. Fitzsimmons, Professor D.W. Hughes, Dr S.A. Mitton, Professor E.R. Priest, Dr A.M.S. Richards, Mr I.W. Ridpath, Mr J.D. Shanklin, Dr S. Viti.
 
APOLOGIES:  Dr M.M. Grady, Dr S.K. Dunkin,  Dr A.J. Smith  (Vice-Presidents), Dr M.A. Hapgood (Secretary), Professor P. Coles, Dr S.F. Green, Professor M.J. Rycroft and Dr I.P. Wright.

 

IN ATTENDANCE

D Elliott (Executive Secretary)

 
 
2.  MINUTES
The minutes of the meeting of the 11 February 2005 were approved
 
3.  MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Presidential portraits
The Treasurer reported that he was arranging a viewing by Council of sample portraits by a number of artists on the basis of which a decision to appoint could be made

 
3.2  Lithuanian Astronomical Society
The Treasurer announced that the Library Committee had agreed to an exchange of journals (‘Monthly Notices’ for ‘Baltic Astronomy’)

 
3.3  Student Membership

The President drew attention to the poster advertising the discounted membership offer to students, reminded Council that it had immediate effect (though technically subject to approval at the May 2005 AGM) and urged everyone to seize this opportunity to drive up recruitment

 
 3.4  GJI
The President informed Council that there would be a strategy meeting on 21 April to discuss the future of GJI and invited members to send email submissions to the Executive Secretary

 
3.5  Prizes

The President confirmed that all nominators had been contacted and thanked
 
 
4.   BURLINGTON HOUSE

The Executive Secretary reported on the nearly concluded lease negotiations, the commencement of the external refurbishment and the appointment of architects to produce plans for the internal refurbishment (the last in time for the July Away Day).

 
 
5.   ORGANISATION AND STRUCTURE

5.1  Education Committee

         The President referred to the previously circulated paper recommending the appointment of Julien King as the new Chair in succession to Alan Pickwick who retires in July. This was approved. Council was asked to consider replacements for the three other members of the Education Committee who were retiring in July

 
5.2  Liabilities of Trustees
The Executive Secretary drew attention to a previously circulated paper, which explained the changes in the liabilities of trustees proposed in the Charity Bill, currently before Parliament

 
5.3  Away Day
The Executive Secretary observed that if all the invitees who had accepted actually came to the event it might be necessary to expand the numbers to accommodate them. This was agreed subject to a ceiling of 30

 
5.4  Proposed Admission Fees and Annual Contributions for 2006
The Treasurer spoke to a previously circulated paper, which explained the reasons why he sought Council’s approval for submitting a formal resolution at the May 2005 AGM for an increase in the 2006 baseline subscription rates of £4 above inflation. This was to fund the activities of the Society, which were increasing in their range and frequency, and to meet increased liabilities (such as the costs of adherence to the IUGG as well as the on-going expenses written into the Burlington House lease). This is happening at a time when, because of market conditions, the returns on the Society’s investment portfolio were not likely to show significant improvements and where recourse to the other principal means of raising revenue (increases in the subscription rates to MN and GJI over and  above inflation and cost-related increases), given the pressure on library budgets, was undesirable. He observed that while membership is growing, after allowing for the increase resulting from students (whose fees were subsidised), associates (who were not obliged to pay fees) and those qualifying for old age related discounts, this growth would have only marginal impact on the overall financial position (especially as, to reduce office administration time incurred in chasing late payers, he was also asking Council to continue the £3 rebate scheme for fellows opting to pay by direct debit or continuous payment authority).

Council congratulated the Treasurer of the clarity of the exposition and agreed that the following proposal for annual contributions in 2006 should be presented to the AGM with its approval:

 
‘Rate 1 Concessionary rates for students and older Fellows: £22.00.  For:
 
  1. Fellows who on 2006 Jan 1 (or at the time of election in 2006) are in full time education studying Astronomy, Geophysics or a related subject, without age restriction and with certification.
  2. Fellows who, after 2003 Jan 1, validly exercise their rights under Byelaw 38
 
Rate 2 Concessionary rates for recently qualified and newly elected Fellows: £53.50 for:
 
1.     Fellows who on 2006 Jan 1 are under 30, or who completed full-time education less than 5 years before 2006 Jan 1.

2.     For the first year only, Fellows newly elected in 2006 who are not eligible for Rate 1.

 
Rate 3 The standard rate: £81.00.   For:
 
         Fellows who on 2006 Jan 1 are 30 or over and who completed full time education more than 5 years ago.

 
Rate 4 The concessionary rate for older Fellows having historic rights: £nil.   For:
 
Fellows who exercised their rights under Byelaw 38 before 2003 Jan 1.

 
Conditional reductions:
 
Rates 2 and 3 are reduced by 25% for Fellows who are also members of the Institute of Physics.
 
Rates 1, 2 and 3 are further reduced by £3 for Fellows who have already taken out a Direct Debit authority to charge Annual Contributions to Bank Accounts or a Continuous Payment Authority to charge credit cards, or who do so at the time of payment of the Annual Contribution.
 
Rate 2 is reduced by 50% in the first year for non-student Fellows who are newly elected to membership after the end of June. 
 
Rate 1 is reduced to £1 in the first year of membership provided the newly-elected student fellow takes out a Direct Debit authority to charge Annual Contributions to a Bank Account or a Continuous Payment Authority to charge a credit card at the time of election. (Note: the DD/CPA discount is applied after the first year).
 
Reductions are applied in the order given.
 
The Admission Fee remains at zero’
 
5.5  Abstract of Accounts for 31 December 2004
The Treasurer took this item, and the next one on the agenda (Operations Plan for 2005/2008) together. In reviewing them he drew attention to the following:

-        The anticipated decline in revenue from the hiring out of rooms in Burlington House during the period of refurbishment

-        The disappearance of a separate provision for legal fees following the resolution of the occupancy issue

-        The notional figure of £1,000,000 for internal refurbishment

-        The variation in publications income resulting from the new contract which came into effect in January 2005 (though he noted that it still resulted in a net operating surplus of 25% which, he felt, sat uncomfortably with the Society’s charitable status and objectives)

 
In discussion, the Treasurer confirmed that, were the surpluses from publications not available for redeployment, the Society would show an annual deficit of some £200,000. He agreed that there was merit in re-designing the table of accounts and operations plan to make this clearer. Simon Mitton observed that university presses aimed for a gross margin of 50-60% while commercial publishers aimed even higher at 70-80%. Anita Richards noted that Learned Societies, however, could and should have lower margins since they were able to call on the services of the academic community at little or no cost to themselves.

 
Finally, it was proposed that one of the outcomes of the Away Day should be agreement on a project or projects which would significantly advance the sciences for which the Society existed, by drawing on the reserves which had been accumulated against the risk of having to leave Burlington House and purchase alternative accommodation

 
5.6  185th AGM 13 May 2005 Draft Ballot papers

Noted
 
 
6.   REVIEWS
6.1  Future of Planetary Sciences in the UK
Alan Fitzsimmons spoke to the paper previously distributed at the February meeting of Council outlining the role played by the UK’s space science community in planetary missions, especially in instrument design and laboratory based science, as well as the less well known observational and theoretical achievements. However, because of the large, multi-national scale of these missions the public did not always appreciate the UK’s involvement. In discussion it was agreed that the RAS statement should be expanded to include the ‘big questions’ planetary science is trying to answer; to emphasise the benefits derived from the diversity of planetary scientists; to mention the contribution of theoretical studies, especially cosmogony; to recognise the achievements of "amateurs" and, most important of all, to encourage universities  to recognize the importance of planetary science both for research and for attracting students onto science courses (in this context it was noted, for example,  that there was no planetary science at Cambridge and very little at Oxford or Durham). It was agreed that the report should be completed quickly and that it should be publicised, if at all possible, by linking its release with another, related, event, for example results from the Cassini Huygens mission.  Council members were invited to send comments for inclusion in the final draft.
 
The Treasurer alluded to the previous discussion on reserves at the Away Day and invited the community to suggest ways in which planetary sciences could be assisted. Possibilities included a new journal or planetary forum. 
 
6.2  Careers in Astronomy
The Secretary, Helen Walker, spoke to the paper, which had been previously distributed by email, and explained that she was looking for suggestions from Council which could be incorporated prior to its discussion at the careers session in the Birmingham NAM. The issues were particularly timely given PPARC’s announcement of a 50% increase in the provision of PhD awards in astronomy since, in the absence of a matching increase in the provision of full time posts in universities and other institutions, that would only add to the 4/5 or so of post-doctoral students who already take up careers in other fields. Even allowing that EU legislation had narrowed the distinction between full time and fixed-term posts, there remained a significant imbalance between the production of PhD candidates and the careers subsequently open to them in UK astronomy. Rather than deplore this however, the RAS could opt to use its position to argue for changes in the way doctoral candidates are trained, with greater emphasis being placed on the acquisition of transferable skills. Manifestly (and rightly), the government appreciated the importance to the UK economy of boosting the cadre of highly trained scientists. Astronomy had a key role to play here, given its power to attract students into the physical sciences at all levels.
 
Council agreed that it was important that the demographic trends survey, a key source of data for the policy paper, was completed as a matter of urgency and that the careers document taken to the NAM needed to be re-ordered around a list of topics and questions on which replies could be sought and analysed. The paper which emerged from this could constitute the Society’s formal response to the PPARC initiative outlined above. Council agreed to email Helen Walker with suggestions.
 
6.3  IUGG
The President commended the previously distributed paper produced by the Geophysical Secretary, which Council agreed was a good statement of the Society’s position on contributing to the costs of continued adherence to the IUGG, if and when it was requested to do so by the Royal Society viz
 
1.     UK membership of IUGG membership brings significant practical benefits to

      areas of UK science within the remit of the RAS.

2.     Many UK scientists (including many RAS Fellows) participate actively in IUGG

and this contributes to the high international profile of UK activities in RAS areas of science.

3.     In the event that the RS insists on reducing its contribution to UK adherence to

      IUGG, there is good support for the RAS paying a contribution to those costs.

4.     If the learned societies contribute to the costs of UK adherence to IUGG, there

must be a clear (i.e. written) agreement between the RS and the contributing societies on how the adherence is managed.

5.     There are areas within IUGG where reform is needed and this is underway in

      some areas. An RAS contribution to the costs of adherence should give the Society a formal position from which it can encourage reforms that advance science in ways appropriate to the 21st century.

 
6.4  International Review of UK Physics and Astronomy
The President referred to the progress report previously circulated, only adding that staff at St Andrews University would be invited to join colleagues at Edinburgh and Glasgow when the Review Team made their site visit to Scotland.  A further update would be provided at the May meeting of Council.
 
 
7.   OTHER
7.1  Council approved the following Candidates for Election to Fellowship listed in the previously circulated paper viz. OR/03/05.   
     
Ashwell                                   Johanna Fleur                         

Aulak                                       Kamandeep                            

Bamford                                  Steven                                    

Burgess                                   Daniel                                    

Christer                                   Roxanne                                 

Cooper-Smith                          Neil                                        

Dicken                                     Daniel                                    

Dixon                                      Thomas                                   

Dominik                                  Martin                                    

Dumberry                                Mathieu                                  

McAuliffe                                Jonathan                                 

Milligan                                  Ryan                                       

Mole                                        Nils                                        

Piscitelli                                  Michele                                  

Rossetti                                   Alessandra                             

Shibahara                                Aya                                         

Smellie                                    Donald W.L.                           

Thomson                                  Grace                                     

Trotta                                      Roberto                                  
Verth                                       Gary                                       
Wong                                       Isla T.W.                                
 
 
7.2  The minutes of the Anniversary Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society meeting for 11 February 2005 were approved

 
 
8.   AOB
8.1  Secretary Helen Walker informed Council that OFCOM proposed to sell some radio frequencies used by astronomers, with a consequential risk to their research activities. It was agreed that she, assisted by Anita Richards and her colleagues at Jodrell Bank, would compose a response which, following email approval by Council, would be sent to OFCOM by the deadline (24 March).

 
8.2  Secretary Ian Howarth reminded Council that he was putting the 2005-06 meetings programme together and invited proposals from them and their colleagues

 
The meeting ended at 1230

 
 

Council rose at 12.30

 
 
 
…………………………..

K.A. Whaler                                                                                        13th May 2005

President