Government's protection of science a myth, says RSC president


04 March 2011

The belief that science in the UK is being protected has finally been exposed as a myth, according to the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

"The government's mirage has finally faded," said Professor David Phillips. "We're left with reality: the science sector's teaching funding slashed by almost 75 per cent, research cut by more than 17 million and a ruinous 66 per cent reduction in the capital budget. It took decades for us to recover from the dark days of the 1980s when many researchers had to carry out their work in dilapidated facilities. Now we're returning to that era."

Science and universities minister David Willetts revealed on Tuesday exactly how close science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) university departments have come to joining arts and humanities in losing their entire teaching budget. He said "about 4,000 of basic teaching costs across all subjects" will be removed as reforms proposed by Lord Browne are implemented. Lab-based science courses receive annual funding of 8,700 per student, 3,300 of which is from tuition fees and loans with the remainder from HEFCE. The 4,000 drop in teaching funding leaves STEM students with just 1,400 per year: a 74.1 per cent fall.

"When the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced last October, it was portrayed as a 'victory for science'," said Professor Phillips. "I'm not sure what exactly constitutes a victory when teaching is slashed by three-quarters, research funding falls by more than 17 million and capital spend plummets from 158 million to 53 million; to top it all off, we've got the immigration cap limiting the number of scientists coming to this country coming into force next month."

Professor Phillips said universities will have to start charging close to 9,000 just to make up the shortfall in teaching funding. "Tuition fees are the great unknown. Who knows if the future of chemistry is safe in this country? But I can say that we will do our best to make it so."

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