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Science funding

scientist using microscopeCapital funding cuts threaten UK science

Cuts in capital budgets for the UK science base undermine the government's promise to protect investment in science.

The figures, published in the government's Allocation of Science and Research Funding 2011/12 to 2014/15 in December 2010, have raised fears of a return to the 1980s when many researchers had to carry out their work in dilapidated facilities.

Some of this capital spending is actually required for maintenance and other long-term commitments, which can't simply be stopped - so the money will have to come from other sources instead.

Capital budgets

Research council capital budgets will fall to 46% of the 2010-11 baseline by 2014-15. Capital budgets for research in Higher Education Institutes face cuts of a similar order (see table 1).

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council faces an immediate cut of almost 43% in 2011-12. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's capital budget will be cut by 37%.

The Natural Environment Research Council's capital budget will fall by almost 45% in 2012-13. The Science and Technology Facilities Council's core programme will be cut by 35% in 2013.

The exception is the Medical Research Council. Although MRC faces an exceptionally severe cut in capital spending funded by the Department for Innovation and Skills, it will receive £220m for the new UK Centre for Medical Research Innovation from the Department of Health.

Bob Ward, from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change said: "It looks like we could be returning to the dark days of the 1980s and early 1990s when researchers were forced to work in laboratories and facilities that were starved of investment."

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said: "Allowing some of our labs and other facilities to go without further investment is only a short-term solution and cannot be considered as a sensible long term strategy."

Table 1: Capital allocations (indicative for 2012-13 to 2014-15)

£000s

Baseline 2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Total

Final year to baseline

Research Councils

393,438

239,821

199,393

181,430

180,967

801,611

46%

AHRC

3,150

0

0

0

0

0

0%

BBSRC

66,480

38,000

29,700

29,700

29,700

127,100

44.68%

EPSRC

49,261

31,000

35,000

25,000

25,000

116,000

50.75%

ESRC

20,600

18,700

13,700

12,700

12,700

57,800

61.65%

MRC

134,517

33,000

29,000

31,000

31,000

124,000

23.05%

NERC

34,183

32,200

17,800

17,800

17,800

85,600

52.07%

STFC Core

 

19,630

21,981

14,237

14,169

70,017

 

STFC cross-council facilities

85,247

21,070

21,919

22,463

22,931

88,383

75.98%

STFC Intl Subs

 

46,221

30,293

28,530

27,667

132,711

 

Resource allocations

With the exception of the Medical Research Council, funding for other research councils will fall in cash terms by 3% overall by 2014-15. The real terms cut will be higher and the severity of it will depend on the level of inflation - which is not expected to fall in the short term.

Funding cuts for BBSRC and the Science and Technology Facilities Council's core programme will be front-loaded - with a cut of almost 3% for BBSRC and over 9% for STFC by 2012. NERC's resource allocation will be cut by 3.67% - but not until 2014.

The Science and Society programme will be cut by almost 16% from April 2011. Part of this saving arises from a retrograde decision to cease funding for the UK Resource Centre for Women. Read our letter to the minister of state for universities and science. The Government anticipates that the Royal Academy of Engineering will develop a new diversity programme in engineering and the wider STEM workforce. 

The Evidence and Evaluation programme, run by BIS will be a slashed by 82%. Prospect can see no rationale for this and BIS has offered no explanation. In August 2010, the government published an evaluation strategy which said:

"Significant savings need to be found in support of the new Government's commitment to reduce the public debt burden. But if we are to minimise the effects of this on the economy, it is essential to know what activities will drive growth and economic recovery. 

"Maintaining a strong evidence base is therefore vital to ensure we make the right decisions. Evaluations are an important part of this evidence base, supporting decision-making, and improving the effectiveness of our policies."

Table 2: Resource allocations

£000s

Baseline 2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Total

Final year
to baseline

Research Councils

2,549,353

2,596,196

2,573,678

2,586,641

2,599,812

10,356,327

101.98%

AHRC

100,717

99,881

98,370

98,370

98,370

394,993

97.67%

BBSRC

362,341

370,306

359,471

351,471

351,471

1,432,718

97.00%

EPSRC

771,289

759,720

748,150

748,150

748,150

3,004,171

97.00%

ESRC

158,061

155,690

153,319

153,319

153,319

615,648

97.00%

MRC

545,585

536,172

546,243

559,894

574,641

2,216,950

105.33%

NERC

298,071

298,600

297,129

300,129

289,129

1,184,987

97.00%

STFC Core

177,519

190,060

172,200

172,200

172,190

706,650

97.00%

STFC cross-council facilities

66,800

77,170

79,280

81,410

89,470

327,330

133.94%

STFC Intl Subs

68,970

108,598

119,515

121,697

123,071

472,881

178.44%