Scientists are expecting grim news in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, where funding for science and research is expected to be cut significantly. This is despite arguments that science and innovation should be at the heart of future economic growth, not least in a Royal Society report from March.
Business secretary Vince Cable at the beginning of the month said universities will have to do ‘more with less’, and angered researchers by suggesting up to 45% of grants went to research that wasn’t of excellent standard (with the implication that mediocre science could reasonably be cut). Now the heads of leading research universities are getting involved.
Lord Krebs, head of the House of Lords’ science and technology select committee, has warned today that cuts to the government’s science research budget will affect the ability of UK universities to attract and retain the best researchers from around the world.
He spoke this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme after sending the science minister David Willetts a letter setting out the views of the heads of six leading universities, including the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Professor Andrew Hamilton.
David Willetts gave evidence to the Lords’ science and technology committee in July, when he invited the committee to provide evidence that the UK is becoming a less attractive place for science research.
Lord Krebs then wrote to the vice-chancellors of six leading research universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial, Edinburgh and UCL – for their experiences. Their responses provide the material for the letter to David Willetts, including the suggestion that a handful of top researchers have already returned back to the US given the outlook for research funding here.
In Oxford’s submission, Professor Andrew Hamilton says: ‘We have very real concerns that the brightest and best researchers at all stages of their career could accept offers of study or employment at our international competitor institutions should the national funding environment become more challenging ... We are of the firm view that it is less expensive to retain our [leading UK research intensive universities’] current quality endeavour than it would be if it had to be rebuilt in the future.’
Lord Krebs’ letter and the statements from the universities have now been published on the science and technology committee’s website.
It’s clear that discussion of the effect of science cuts will continue in the next days and weeks.