The roller-coaster just keeps carrying on!
There are two recent reports in newspapers and elsewhere about UK science funding. The first, and most worrying, is a report in the Guardian about how science funding in government departments dropped by 7.6% in the first year of this current parliament. This is in spite of the commitment to protect science funding from the government that was won, at least in part, by the protests by Science is Vital. Research Council funding through BIS, which is what is often thought of as the government science spend, is flat in cash terms, and is thus being eroded away by inflation, in spite of this commitment. However, the science funding of other departments, such as MoD, DoT, is where this additional cut of 7.6% has come.
Total science spending in the UK has thus been dropped in real terms by 6.4% from 2010-11.
That’s not what I call protection!
These cuts come, of course, on top of the UK’s historicly low rate of investment in science. Overall, including both government, charity and industry funding sources, the UK spends 1.77% of GDP on research and development. This compares to the EU average of 2.06%. Compared to the countries we think we’re competing with the picture is even worse: Germany 2.82%, France 2.26%, US 2.79%, Japan 3.45%. Even Belgium manages 1.99%. Is it any wonder that German industry does so much better in the high tech field than the UK when it’s spending nearly 60% more of its GDP on R&D than us? [Figures from here]
But there is a little silver foil scattered around the edge of this cloud. An extra £60M/yr contribution to ESA was announced today. A good fraction of this will presumably go to the ESA Telecommunications Centre to be based at Harwell, so not exactly science money as I’d think of it, but it will surely help a bit.
The larger UK problem, of persistent low levels of investment in science by government, and in broader R&D by industry, remains. Changing that will require a major cultural shift.