BIS Budget Horrors

Just back from my travels so I only have time for a brief post today, but it’s about something potentially very important. It seems that there are big problems with the budget for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which includes the budget for universities in England and also the Research Councils under the umbrella of RCUK. The government has lost control over the number of students recruited into universities – particularly privately run colleges – with the result that it faces a massive £1.4 billion recurrent overspend. A leaked memorandum suggests making immediate £350 million cuts into funding for the poorest students, which is bad enough, but nowhere near enough. It seems the rest of the shortfall will have to be tackled by big cuts in the previously “ring-fenced” science budget. Such a move would run counter to numerous pledges made by the Minister David Willetts and would be devastating for the already underfunded science budget. There is already talk of the Science and Technology Facilities Council having to close one of its major research facilities.

I don’t like to say I told you so, but I have had suspicions for a long time that the government was planning to cut the amount of QR research funding allocated via the 2014 Research Excellence Framework to which submissions are due at the end of this week. Now I think it is virtually inevitable that all the years of preparation for this exercise across the country will earn universities virtually nothing. The total amount allocated via the QR mechanism is currently £1.6 billion – easily enough to cover the gaping hole in the budget caused by Whitehall incompetence. Slashing this budget will hit university science departments particularly hard.

Science has struggled along during the tenure of this government with a flat cash settlement, equivalent to a 10% real terms decline. That’s by no means a good result, but substantially better than other areas of public spending. Now it looks like austerity is really going to bite us very hard indeed.

I’m very worried for students and for science. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the people responsible for creating this fiasco in the first place won’t be in fear of losing their jobs. It may be that “we’re all in it together”, but some of us are in it a lot deeper than others.

3 Responses to “BIS Budget Horrors”

  1. I’ve been following these reports with disappointment over the past few days. We’ll have to see how things turn out. Undoubtedly there will be a lot of civil service and ministerial brinksmanship behind the scenes.

    However, we all remember the astronomy funding crises of the last several years, which were supposed to have been reduced recently. Any contraction of funding will bring back the crises.

  2. telescoper Says:

    There is of course a possibility that this is part of the standard government approach of letting people think things are going to be terrible so that when an announcement is made that is slightly less bad it seems quite good in comparison. We’ll have to wait and see.

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