Universities facing a ticking time-bomb due to capital funding cut

04 February 2011

The decision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to slash more than 66 per cent from capital funding in science during the next academic year will act as a ticking time-bomb for the future, according to the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Dr Richard Pike said university science departments have already had to deal with budget reductions in recent years, leaving academics relying on ancient laboratory equipment. The decision by HEFCE to reduce the science capital budget from 158m this academic year to 53m in 2011-12, as departments simultaneously factor in operational research cuts, serves as a "double-whammy". Dr Pike called on the government to make a visible commitment to high quality infrastructure that supports and invests in research that will grow a science and technology driven economy.

"Leading-edge research is being compromised by this ticking-time bomb," said Dr Pike. "Scientists already scratching their heads deciphering how they are going to deal with a 27.6m reduction in research funding now have only a few months before they must deal with a massive 66.5% cut in their capital budget..

"You now have a double-whammy of research being conducted on a shoe string by researchers using dated equipment. In the past, roughly 15 per cent of all research council spending is set aside for capital spend. In reality, universities already use some of that money for operational activities so to reduce the capital budget further will only store up more problems for the future.

"The last time we had cuts of this size was in the 1980s - and it took us decades to recover. Why are we not learning the lessons of the past?"

Announcement of the cuts comes just 24 hours after 2,400 skilled jobs were lost at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. With almost 6,000 jobs lost in the pharmaceutical sector in the last 12 months alone, the RSC believes areas such as high-quality, well-equipped university research departments must fill the gap in the industrial pipeline.

"Let's not forget that one in every five pounds in the UK economy is produced by the chemical sciences' industry," said Dr Pike. "The government needs to urgently set out its vision and strategy for protecting science because of its crucial importance to the economy."

Note to editors

. One of every five pounds in the UK economy is dependent on developments in chemical science research, and the chemical-reliant industries supported six million jobs in 2007, according to a report produced by Oxford Economics for the RSC.

. Before further research cuts were announced, chemistry departments in the UK were already running at a deficit ranging from -8.7% to -77.9%, according to a joint RSC/Institute of Physics report carried out in June 2010.

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