Chemists: public backs STEM spending formula

October 14, 2010

The public's view that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects offer the best value for money strengthens the case for prioritising the preservation of their funding at the possible expense of others, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In light of the cuts expected in next week's Comprehensive Spending Review, the society commissioned a poll of about 1,000 Britons, asking which university subjects, out of a list of 19, offer the best value for taxpayers' money.

The findings put medicine at the top of the list for preservation, with 85 per cent of respondents describing it as a high priority, followed by education, mathematics, dentistry, chemistry, biology and physics.

Law, computing and business studies come next, with humanities subjects clustered at the bottom of the list.

Media studies is deemed to be a high priority by just 7 per cent of respondents, Classics by 8 per cent and philosophy by 10 per cent.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said the results "confirm what we have been saying about the funding of science, which is vital to the short-term and long-term good of the country. Clearly the public recognises the reality, and we urge the government to take note and act accordingly."

A spokesman for the society added that in light of the economic pressures facing the UK, public spending should be focused on subjects that provide the maximum economic return, and "this means investing in the STEM subjects, especially chemical sciences".

Despite the funding squeeze, learned societies have generally shied away from arguing that their subjects should be preserved at the expense of others.

The only conspicuous exception has been the Royal Academy of Engineering, which argues in its CSR submission that spending on pure science, particularly particle physics, does not offer good value for money and should not be prioritised.

Meanwhile, Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, warned last week that it was not the job of the private and charitable sectors to fill the gaps in university funding if the science budget is slashed.

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