Freezing of science budget could hit UK’s global reputation

The freezing of the £4.6 billion budget for scientific research could mean a cut of 8.9 per cent in real terms – though it could have been a lot worse, “it’s not as bad as we were expecting” being the common refrain among scientists at a Young Fabians policy network event this week on the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review in on research and development and science.

The freezing of the £4.6 billion budget for scientific research could mean a cut of 8.9 per cent in real terms – though it could have been a lot worse. “It’s not as bad as we were expecting” was the general consensus among scientists at a Young Fabians policy network event this week on the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review in on research and development and science.

Stephen Gruneberg, chairman of the Labour Finance and Industry Group, said that there continues to be an “implied threat” over the heads of scientists – budgets for scientific research in departments other than the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Health are not ring fenced and are still awaiting their fate.

In addition to the budget the freeze, the government’s decision to close regional development agencies represented as a major blow to small and medium sized enterprises, according to Professor Evan Parker from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick. There were also worries Britain would slip down the global league table.

Professor Parker added:

“We are looked to by the scientific world. We are respected for academic excellence, and until recently, we had very well financially supported research and development by the government.

“If we are to keep our global position in pioneering R&D, Westminster politicians must keep up with counterparts such as China, Singapore and even other European member states such as France.

“Germany is now increasing its science budget by seven per cent. President Obama has committed three per cent of American GDP to scientific research – a doubling of the budget as part of the economic stimulus package.

“The general public too must recognise the necessity of financial support and scientific industries to retain pressure on the government to continue adequate financial support.”

The immigration cap that the coalition plans to expand shortly was described as the most worrying direction that the government is going in. Parker said the arbitrary cap on the number of economic migrants from outside the European Union being allowed into the country to work was bad for businesses, for the economy and for scientific R&D:

He explained how:

“… this policy will block and deter the best of the scientific world from working in the UK.”

The teaching of science was also criticised, with John Unsworth, chair of Scientists for Labour, suggesting reforms to the A Level system to encourage young people to study a mixture of arts and scientific subjects, and Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science, saying:

“Uninspired and uninspiring teachers are failing to capture children’s imaginations and are therefore turning them away from the sciences from a young age. We also have concerns for the coalition’s academy policy, which will give schools complete autonomy from the national curriculum…

“Imagine a world without vaccinations or the internet. Imagine a world without electricity or aeroplanes. Imagine a world without science.”

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