Youth threat to UK science

April 17, 1998

Lack of investment in laboratory equipment and declining interest in scientific careers among young people are threatening the United Kingdom's science base, according to the Office of Science and Technology.

In its submission to the government's comprehensive spending review outlines what the six research councils think are the "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats" facing the country's science.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council says: "The UK's economic potential and our ability to take advantage of our lead in biotechnology will be severely compromised if the scale of doctoral training does not follow industrial demand."

The council adds that doctoral training does not offer "sufficiently attractive stipends to bring some of the best intellects of coming generations into the sector".

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is also concerned about the "quality of the graduate stock" and the "ageing academic population". The Natural Environment Research Council points to "skills shortage in critical areas".

Under-investment in lab equipment is a particular problem. The councils say that funding cuts are likely to further threaten the country's science base.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council says it is having to narrow significantly its research portfolio because of a fall in real-term funding.

The EPSRC sees the concentration of universities on single disciplines, rather than multidisciplinary research, as a threat.

And the Economic and Social Research Council concurs, pointing to difficulties of understanding between physical and social scientists.

The councils say the country risks losing out to competition from overseas, particularly the United States and the Pacific Rim countries, and that financial constraints are eroding international collaboration in some areas.

OST's submission is thought to have argued for an additional Pounds 500 million a year for the science base.

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