Astronomy Cuts Rumour Mill
Following on from my recent post of the STFC budget, and the comments thereon, I thought it might be useful to make the discussion a bit more prominent as the scale of the cuts is revealed this week and people feel the consequent need to work off nervous energy.
To get things started I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing some of Paul Crowther‘s comments (in italics):
More or less 20% of the total STFC budget shifts across to UKSA from April 2011. This means the STFC budget will reduce from around £570m to around £455m even if the settlement is flat-cash. Grants for space science exploitation remain the responsibility of STFC even after the transfer of the other space activity to UKSA.
George Osborne has announced that ‘infrastructure’ cash from LFCF (Capital Fund) will go towards an upgrade of the Diamond light source. This is a different pot of money from individual Research Councils, but still part of the overall RCUK budget. The Drayson plan for STFC was always to separate Harwell operations (Diamond, ISIS, CLF) from the rest of STFC programmes, so support for Diamond upgrade is likely to come with operations cash too.
Putting these two items together, the STFC allocation will shrink and some of the remaining cash is going to be ring-fenced for Diamond operations. Assuming that the overall RCUK budget falls by 20% in near-cash terms and 50% in capital on Wednesday 20th and STFC not do worse than “average” across the RCUK portfolio, the cash+capital for the rest of the non-UKSA programme at STFC would fall by 25% or so, i.e. approx £100 million pounds less to spend per annum than at present.
In practice this might mean..
…Mothballing ISIS + CLF (£35m) AND withdrawing from ESO (£30m) AND cancelling all PP grants (£24m) AND stopping all accelerator R& D (£8m)…
… or some other equally hideous combination of items in the spreadsheet.
In other words this really would be “game over” for large parts of STFC science. Even if the cuts are at the level of 15%, which is apparently what the word on the street is saying, then there are still going to be extremely hard choices.
One nightmare possibility is that STFC not only cuts back on new research grants – as it has already done by approximately 40% over the past three years – but actually decides to claw back grants it has already issued. If this happens at the same time as the Treasury slashes HEFCE’s support for research through the QR element then many physics departments will go under very quickly, as they will no longer be even remotely viable financially.
We’re on the brink…