Brian Cox: new freeze in research funding would be ‘dire’ for UK science

Physicist warns that the UK’s high scientific output is based on investment made ‘decades’ ago

September 16, 2015

Another freeze in research funding over the next five years would be “dire” for UK science, according to Brian Cox.

The University of Manchester physicist and TV presenter was speaking to MPs as the sector braces itself for the government spending review in November.

In the last review in 2010, the research budget was held flat in cash terms – which equated to about a 10 per cent real cut.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been ordered to model cuts of up to 40 per cent for the review, which will set out the government’s spending plans for the next five years.

“If there’s another flat cash settlement, then realistically, it’s dire,” Professor Cox told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee yesterday afternoon.

“That’s not my opinion, it seems to be the opinion unanimously of the research councils,” he said.

In particular he focused on the consequences for the Science and Technology Facilities Council, for which another five years of flat cash would be an “absolute disaster”.

“Unless there’s something like a 10 per cent increase in its budget, essentially it will either pull out of major areas of research or will see a collapse in the funding of younger researchers. And that’s extremely important,” Professor Cox told MPs.

“That’s very serious and I get the sense that the same problems exist across all research councils.”

Although he acknowledged that the UK still “just about” had a world-class research base, he said that good current performance was based on previous investments. “We’re reaping the rewards of decisions made decades ago,” Professor Cox said.

Scientific facilities were currently lying unused, so small increases in funding would increase productivity significantly.

According to the campaign group Science is Vital, another five years of flat cash would mean that by 2020, relative to GDP, research funding would have been cut by nearly 25 per cent.

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