Surprise budget cuts for UK science
Scientists and research managers in the UK have reacted with dismay to a £69 million raid on the budget of the research councils - the state agencies that fund the bulk of UK civil science.
The Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for the public science budget, reclaimed the money from the councils after it decided to inject extra cash into the nuclear power company British Energy and the now defunct motor car firm MG Rover.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the principal supporter of chemistry research in UK universities, is losing £29 million (4 per cent) from its budget next year. It has announced it will not award £14 million of research grants that it had planned to support next year. The remainder of the £29 million will be found by withdrawal of support for the construction of new beamlines at the national synchrotron radiation source, the cancellation of additional equipment for nanotechnology, a reduction in administration costs and the cancellation of a number of 'IDEAS sandpits' - intensive workshops that produce innovative ideas for new projects. The council decided to protect studentships at the expense of research
'Because virtually all of EPSRC's funds are spent in universities on research grants and post graduate studentships, decisions have inevitably impacted on the seedcorn of the future: innovative research and young people at the start of their research careers,' said EPSRC's interim chief executive, Randal Richards. 'In engineering and the physical sciences this is doubly serious because these are shortage subjects that are essential to the economy and much of the rest of science.'
Graham Richards, of the University of Oxford's chemistry department, told Chemistry World, 'This is bad news for science but multiply so for chemistry where much research depends on teams of people. My department has contributed some £80 million to the central university as a result of the creation of spin-out companies: just what the Government desires. Cuts will jeopardise that and damage the delicate perception that there is a real future in careers in research.'
RSC protest at Westminster
© ROYAL SOCIETY OF CHEMISTRY
The RSC protested the cuts by displaying a mass of lab coat-clad mannequins on College Green in London opposite the Houses of Parliament. 'The UK will be 1000 scientists poorer as a result of the decision to axe part of science funding this year,' said RSC chief executive, Richard Pike.
The research council responsible for biological sciences, the BBSRC, lost £6.7 million and will cut the equivalent of twenty new grants. The Medical Research Council was cut by £10.7 million; the Natural Environment Research Council by £9.7 million.