UK Science Budget Protected in Real Terms


Scientists all over the UK have been dreading yesterday’s spending review – but it turns out we needn’t have been quite so worried.

Chancellor George Osbourne yesterday announced that science funding will be protected in real terms, with £5 billion being allocated to health research and development, including programmes to battle malaria and dementia, over £1 billion funding for aerospace and automotive technologies, and a £250 million nuclear research programme. There is also going to be a much needed review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), to try and simplify the system and ensure funding is based on excellence. £400 million has also been set aside for the ‘Northern Powerhouse investment fund’ to boost transport, art and sciences in the north.

Prof. Dominic Tildesley, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is ‘delighted’ by the review, stating that ‘it is hugely encouraging to see our science base recognised as a vital part of the infrastructure needed to build a growing, knowledge-based economy’.

However, while scientists are relieved budgets haven’t been cut, as feared, there is a continued concern that the UK are lagging behind other countries around the world, in terms of the percentage of our budget spent on research. Indeed, this year the UK was found to spend below 0.5% of our GDP on research – putting us last in the G8. There is the risk that this increase won’t offset inflation in coming years, and this percentage could drop even further.

Furthermore, departments which are significantly linked to science, such as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Home Office, have received cuts, which may bring about some problems for research.

Although it is encouraging to see the present government keeping science budgets steady, it is still concerning that we lag behind so many other countries, and we’re still at risk of losing our strong R&D reputation.

After the long wait, we’re relieved by the news, but not overjoyed. Time will tell how effective this new budget will be for the immediate future of science in the UK.


UK at risk of losing it’s ‘science superpower’ status

The UK government needs to commit to spend more on scientific research and development over the long term if we have any chance of retaining our ‘superpower’ status amongst our competitors around the world, according to a report published by the House of Commons science and technology committee this month.

With the government’s spending review being due later this month, many scientists around the country are concerned that the science budget is going to suffer, and this report insists we will fall behind if this happens. The report states that cuts in spending “put UK competitiveness, productivity and high-value jobs at risk”, and that more needs to be done for us to reach the EU target of 3% of the GDP going into science R&D investment.

The future is looking very uncertain at the moment, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer convincing the Treasury, local governments and departments of transport and environment to agree to 30% budget cuts, and the fear is science funding will be the next in the firing line.

The UK has been holding its own in recent times, but if funding is cut, this may soon change, and we will begin to lose our credibility as a centre of technology and innovation if this happens. We have so much potential for great scientific discovery and development, and it could be catastrophic if funding causes this to crumble. It’s not only in our interest as scientists to protect R&D in this country, but as members of the British public. I hope George Osborne thinks very carefully before he decides the fate of science funding for all of us.