In 2010, the campaign group Science is Vital was founded to rally opposition among researchers and the public to the threat of cuts. Now, we are back on the campaign trail and need your help.
Our campaigning has helped to secure a flat-cash settlement for the research budget for 2010-2015. However, cuts to capital expenditure and departmental R&D budgets within government have, despite some welcome but sporadic injections, reduced the size of the UK research base.
Now, as the UK is pulling out of recession and just a month before the next comprehensive spending review, the government has raised the grim prospect of cuts to departmental budgets of 25-40 per cent between now and 2020. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has asked all the research councils, which fund activities across the sciences, arts and humanities, to model the effects of such reductions in spending.
But here’s the funny thing: no one within earshot of Whitehall seriously expects the government to implement cuts on that scale. It would be an astonishing and politically damaging volte face by a chancellor who has repeatedly stated his intention to make the UK the best place in the world to do research.
Instead it seems more likely that the mooted cuts are a feint designed to make another flat-cash settlement look like a positive outcome for UK research.
But that would be a damaging result.
The last five years of flat cash has seen the UK slip to the bottom of the G8 group of nations in terms of the percentage of GDP devoted to public-funded R&D. Another five years of the same would see further retrenchment and signal a loss of ambition by the UK government.
The quest for savings to satisfy the chancellor’s drive to reduce the deficit is of course understandable. But that drive should not be blind. There is a sense that the government too often looks on public R&D spending as a cost and not as an investment. But it is an investment, one that has been shown time and again to yield positive economic returns, and one that is sorely needed to reboot the UK’s stalled productivity.
All of which is to say nothing of the savings and improvements to our quality of life that can be realised through research into energy generation, food supply, and treatments and policies for ensuring the health of the population. Or of the cultural enrichment that is generated in societies that care deeply about exploring the human condition, the operations of our society and our place in the universe.
For all these reasons, Science is Vital is campaigning for a positive vision of the future of UK research. But to articulate that vision and to send a message to the government, we need voices to be raised in support of science – in all its forms – from across the research community and across the UK.
If you too believe that research matters, please join in with the campaign. Come to our event in Conway Hall in London, 7-9 PM on Monday 26th October, or follow proceedings online. And make sure to send George Osborne a postcard explaining why you think investment in science is vital – it’s quick and free using this online form.
Stephen Curry is a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London and vice-chair of Science is Vital.