The science budget is to be cut by well over Pounds 50 million in real terms in the next three years. This, combined with cuts in higher education funding generally, could seriously damage university science according to the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.
The Office of Science and Technology announced that the science budget has been increased Pounds 30 million to Pounds 1,312 million for 1996/97 compared to 1995/96. This is an increase of 2.3 per cent, slightly less than inflation and therefore Pounds 5 million down in real terms. On the same basis, the Government's projected 1997/98 science spend of Pounds 1,330 million is down some Pounds 20 million compared to this year in real terms and the Pounds 1,346 million planned for 1998/99 is down Pounds 34 million, a cumulative total cut of Pounds 59 million.
A spokesman for the CVCP said: "This decline in itself is not a big problem but it becomes one when seen alongside what the DFEE has done to higher education. The Government says it believes in the dual support system and then kicks away one of its two crutches."
The CVCP is concerned that the funding council grant for capital expenditure is being cut by 30 per cent in one year and is to be halved over three years. "That is the money that would have bought new equipment and maintained laboratories to modern standards. This will do further damage to the country's competitiveness in the world scientific league," said a spokesman.
John Mulvey of the Save British Science Society said the "draconian" cutbacks in grant for capital expenditure will deal a "crushing blow" to universities as they struggle to update laboratories and replace obsolete equipment. "It is no use the DFEE saying the funding councils should have 'regard to equipment needs, especially research' while making it impossible for this 'regard' to be exercised. Industry is adamant that it will not replace Government funding in the provision of equipment - that is what they pay taxes for."
The SBS alerted Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, a week ago to concern in industry about decaying infrastructure and lack of "state of the art" research equipment in institutions.