We all knew this was coming, but the UK will pay the price for generations to come. New Scientist is reporting:
So the axe has not fallen on British science — at least for now.
Unveiling the UK coalition government’s long-awaited emergency budget today, chancellor George Osborne announced plans for deep cuts in public spending and an increase in taxes.
The aim is to trim the budgets of government departments by 25 per cent — more than many commentators expected.
But precisely how that will affect science is not yet clear, and will not be explicit until the government announces its comprehensive spending review on 20 October.
Only then will we realise whether the government accepts the necessity of investing in science and engineering.
The Chancellor says he wants to support business and make the UK more competitive.
Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, points out that this suggests that the government recognises the importance of the private sector to the recovery. He says:
“Stable public spending — and certainly not a spending cut — is essential for encouraging private sector R&D investors to build the UK’s high-skills, high-tech economy of tomorrow.”
Osborne also mentioned the Conservative review of research and development by James Dyson during a section of his speech on corporate tax.
That suggests that the Treasury supports the review’s key recommendation of tax incentives for high-tech start-up companies.
Osborne also announced that the government would support so-called capital projects that could bolster economic growth. The Ã‚Â£600-million UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation in King’s Cross, London, would presumably fall into that category.
But with cuts of 25 per cent on the cards, tough times lie ahead for research and development budgets, both in government departments and in the research councils.
The multi-billion-dollar question is the extent to which the Government will use the comprehensive spending review to lay down a long-term framework, which would define support for science and engineering over the coming years.
We’ll leave the last word on the emergency budget to Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society:
“When the cuts come in the autumn, it is vital that government maintains investment in areas such as science where we have a genuine economic competitive advantage. Look at mobile phones, pharmaceuticals and the internet — just some of the technologies that drive huge economic growth — where British science has and continues to play a major part. If support for science is not sustained, this country, despite its current strength, will cease to be competitive in attracting and retaining outstanding mobile talent: the brightest and best will instead take their enterprise to countries such as France, Germany, the US, India and China.”
I have worked in both government-funded and industry-funded research and development. Both can be very successful in furthering new advancements. But there is one area of advancement that generally occurs only in government-funded research and development. That is the training of new scientist. I have seen very few successful, long-term, stable environments that turn out highly qualified new scientists that do not receive a very significant portion of their funding through government sources.
This, I fear is where the UK is likely to suffer the greatest. Many years from now, the best and brightest will all be seeking their graduate education in foreign lands. That is if they study the sciences at all.
When today’s students see all the unemployed young scientist that will soon be out of jobs in the UK (that is if they do not flee to other countries seeking employment), I expect enrollment in science programs will drop and the need to train student will fall.
Very soon this will become a self-fulfilling prophesy, one that will damage the entire UK economy for many years to come.
Unless, of course, they don’t just export all the science jobs to India and China.
Is Still Here