Archive for December 9, 2009

Budget Bombshell

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on December 9, 2009 by telescoper

As pointed out by Roger Highfield, there’s some grim news for science and higher education  in today’s pre-budget report by Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

In Chapter 6 of the document there is a  list of cuts to be made in public expenditure as a response to the worse-than-expected state of the public finances. Among them you can find a whopping

£600 million from higher education and science and research budgets from a combination of changes to student support within existing arrangements; efficiency savings and prioritisation across universities, science and research; some switching of modes of study in higher education; and reductions in budgets that do not support student participation;

The first means students will suffer because of cuts to the support they will be offered. “Efficiency savings” means what it always means, reducing the level of service to save money. I’ve no idea what “switching of modes of study” means, but I guess it has something to do with having a larger proportion of part-time students. The last bit is completely lost on me. If anyone reading this can translate it into English for me I’d be very grateful.

It is clear that the Research Councils will have to find their share of the efficiency savings. Since the one most directly relevant to me, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is already on the ropes after a series of financial catastrophes this does not augur well the level of cuts expected to be announced in the next few days as a result of their recent prioritisation exercise:

The primary focus of Council’s latest meeting was a review of the programme prioritisation now underway. The chair and deputy chair of Science Board, Professors Jenny Thomas and Tony Ryan, discussed the process of input from advisory panels to the Physical And Life Sciences Committee (PALS) and the Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee (PPAN), and thence to Science Board which will meet 7-8 December to finalise its recommendations to the Council meeting on 15 December. Council agreed the importance of informing the community as quickly as possible after its meeting of the outcome.

So we can expect to hear next week who’s for the shredder. I’m sure STFC were making contigency plans for different possible outcomes, but I’m pretty sure this was close to their worst possible case. Many of us are going to have a very depressing Christmas, as the axe is sure to fall on the astronomy programme in extremely brutal fashion. The cuts will be deep and the injuries sustained will leave scars that will last for many years. The pre-budget statement shows that there’s going to be a long dark tunnel for British science with very little evidence of light at the end of it.

It won’t just be astronomy research that suffers, of course. The Higher Education sector is feeling the pinch already, with redundancies already looming at several institutions. You can place your bets as to how many departments will close over the next year or two, and how many talented scientists will be moving abroad to secure their future rather than stay in a country that seems to place so little value on science.