Was Science Investment Really Protected?

New analysis by CaSE has revealed an alarming decline in UK science and engineering funding, despite political pledges to protect such investment.

CaSE’s paper (Public Funding of UK Science and Engineering: Putting Government Rhetoric to the Test) shows that by 2014-15 the research base will be £1.7bn worse off, in cash terms, as a result of funding decisions taken since the Spending Review last year. Inflation will lead to a further erosion of investment available for science and engineering.

The full paper is available here and in PDF form here.

Although the coalition Government pledged that the science budget would be “protected at £4.6bn a year”, this pledge was made possible by redefining what the term ‘science budget’ meant. For instance, although ‘capital’ funding for research equipment and facilities was slashed by almost half, such spending no longer counts towards the official Science Budget. A full breakdown is provided in the appendix of CaSE’s paper.

Professor Lord Martin Rees, former President of the Royal Society and a member of CaSE’s Advisory Council, commented:

“The message of this important survey is a disquieting one. The UK’s cost-effective science base and university system are at risk. If we don’t match the investment of other nations, and are perceived to be in relative decline, we will lose, rather than attract, the mobile talent that is crucial for sustained excellence. And we will send a negative signal to young people who are ambitious to pursue a scientific career. The sum ‘saved’ by these real-terms reductions is very small compared to the opportunity costs of choking off a long-term recovery.”

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President of the Society of Biology, commented:

“This important report highlights the real terms decline in government investment in science. Yet this is an area with great scope for major societal and economic benefit and which many other nations are investing in even in times of austerity.”

Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow, Chair of the British Science Association, commented:

“This worrying report shows the need for Government to be transparent and consistent about what constitutes the science budget. Other countries are continuing to invest strongly, despite the global economic circumstances, because they recognise the long-term benefits. This report indicates that our investment is planned to decline significantly in both absolute and real terms.”

CaSE’s Director Imran Khan commented:

“The Government received praise for earmarking science and engineering as an area that must be invested in if we’re to achieve growth. Protecting day-to-day research spending was incredibly important, as was ring-fencing the Science Budget.”

“However, we need to start looking ahead and asking if this financial settlement is really going to help the UK get to where it needs to be. A nation like ours has to invest in research and development, or risk becoming irrelevant and uncompetitive.”

“Our analysis shows that, once you take a broad view of the Research Base Budget, we’re seeing an alarming decline in funding – and that’s even before you take into account the effects of inflation. We have to see that being reversed, or else feel the costs for decades to come.”

“Earlier this year George Osborne showed that when the Government sees an opportunity to invest intelligently, it can take it. Now we need to see that approach applied to research and development as a whole, and a long-term strategy implemented to see science and engineering put at the heart of a knowledge-led economic recovery.”

“There’s been a lot of debate about scrapping the 50p tax rate, but it would cost substantially less than that to put UK science and engineering on a secure footing and thereby entice more private sector investment here.”

 

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