Death knell for Pparc brings mixed feelings

March 31, 2006

Last week's Budget surprise has stirred panic and split opinion among v-cs. The Times Higher investigates how the future of funding could pan out

The proposed abolition of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council announced in last week's Budget has prompted mixed responses in the science community.

Some scientists have raised concerns about separating funding for experimental facilities and research, but others have welcomed the possibility of a single research council spanning all university physics departments.

The Treasury proposes creating a Large Facilities Council by combining Pparc's large facilities operations with the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, the body that advises the Government on such facilities. According to the Treasury, this would create a more coherent process for setting priorities and would help with negotiations on joint international projects.

Pparc's grant-giving powers would transfer to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under the plans, giving the EPSRC responsibility for all physical sciences funding.

Roger Davies, head of Oxford University's physics department, said: "The separation of facilities from their exploitation is really quite a dangerous development. You risk the direction of facilities being misguided, and that would be disastrous."

David Elliot, executive secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, said:

"Unifying physics in one research council will end some of the demarcations in physics departments that aren't very helpful, but there is a fear astronomy might get swallowed up and not have its distinct budget."

Bill Gelletly, head of Surrey University's physics department, said that having a single council to negotiate on large facilities with other countries would make a big difference. "The UK has lost its ability to be pragmatic about these things because it's all so divided."

But Colin Pillinger, head of planetary and space sciences at the Open University and the man behind the Beagle 2 mission, said space research was likely to fall through the gaps and not be picked up by either council.

Keith O'Nions, director-general of the research councils, said the Government's proposals were up for consultation, rather than a "done deal", and that all responses would be considered.

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