Analysis: Science revels in £1.25bn bonanza

July 19, 2002

Spending review sees chancellor move to make life 'absolutely' fabulous for scientists but higher education loses out to schools

British science is celebrating its most successful comprehensive spending review yet, with the government planning to dish out an extra £1.25 billion a year by 2005-06.

The investment comes with chancellor Gordon Brown's promise to make careers in science more attractive. Crucially, he pledged to implement Sir Gareth Roberts's review, commissioned last year by the Treasury to report on the supply of scientists in the UK.

He said: "Britain must not make the mistakes in science education in the next generation that we made in the last."

In 2005, PhD students will receive a minimum stipend of £12,000, a doubling since 1997 when Labour came to power. Higher stipends of more than £13,000 will be possible in subjects that have recruitment and retention problems. These will be identified by universities and research councils.

The settlement exceeds Sir Gareth's proposal of a £10,000 minimum stipend and equates broadly to the amount a graduate on an average starting salary would take home after tax. Stipends are not taxed. At the top end, the stipend would be equivalent to a £16,600 salary.

There was also a commitment to improve training for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.

The Treasury has agreed to fund a programme that would pay undergraduates and postgraduates to go into schools to teach. And it will create 1,000 new academic fellowships over five years that will provide funding to enable the best postdoctoral researchers to kick-start their careers.

The Treasury said it would also target funds "for improving universities' capacity to recruit and retain first-rate academics".

Overall, the spending review has given an average 10 per cent a year boost to the Office of Science and Technology's science budget between 2002-03 and 2005-06.

According to Save British Science, the science budget will have almost doubled between 1997 and 2005-06. The pressure group has calculated a real-terms increase in the budget of 86 per cent from 1997.

The £1.25 billion increase is calculated as:

* £890 million from the OST budget

* The majority of £244 million from the Department for Education and Skills budget for recurrent spending on research, 80 per cent of which has historically been science

* £100 million from DFES to implement the Roberts review

* £50 million through DFES for science research infrastructure

The chancellor pledged a recurrent dedicated capital funding stream for universities worth £500 million a year by 2005. He said this was needed to "provide universities with the certainty and level of funding needed properly to plan investment decisions".

The OST budget for large facilities will double to £205 million by 2005, and £400 million annually has been pledged by 2005 for new science, engineering and research programmes.

From 2005-06, research councils will contribute an extra £120 million to help universities meet the true indirect cost of research.

In the spirit of his something-for-something philosophy, Mr Brown asked universities in return for "continued development of their costing and financial management systems" so that they were better able to understand the contribution of research projects to the costs, direct and indirect, of the research.

He said: "The government will expect universities to manage their budgets in a way which allows them to invest properly in infrastructure renewal and ensures that research is put on a sustainable footing."

The success of British universities in business links and commercialisation has persuaded the government to increase the technology transfer budget from £64 million next year to £114 million by 2005. The Higher Education Innovation Fund will be revamped, reaching a £90 million annual budget by 2005.

Science in schools is also set for a boost with the launch of the National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching in partnership with the Wellcome Trust. School science and technology laboratories are also promised a boost.

The government is also introducing measures to improve the management and coordination of science in government departments so it can contribute to policy-making more effectively.

Over the coming months, the heads of the research councils will discuss how the money should be distributed. Final details of allocations to individual research councils are not expected until November.

Research Councils UK said continuing existing programmes, including blue-skies research, will be of primary importance. It is looking at investing in new areas of science, including brain science, sustainable energy, proteomics and stem-cell research.

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