Funding fears for basic projects

September 2, 2005

Academics are concerned that pressure to cut European Union funding and a greater focus on security issues could lead to less cash for basic research in universities, writes Keith Nuthall.

John Smith, the European University Association deputy secretary-general, expressed concern that a reduced overall budget onthe Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) could endanger spending for basic research under a European Research Council (ERC). If that were to happen, he would argue for cuts to earmark priority spend-ing areas, which includes security.

He told The Times Higher : "In a situation where there's going to be reductions in the framework programme, our view is that support for basic research is a top priority if you want the European university sector to be competitive and keep the best people here."

Without sufficient spending, the ERC "wouldn't be viable", making it "difficult for a council to sustain an open bottom-up approach".

Both the British Government, which has the EU presidency, and UK MEPs want to ensure this kind of situation does not arise.

They want EU research spending made a priority as a way of boosting competitiveness.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the Liberal Democrat vice-chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that even the current European Commission security research spending plans were "chicken feed, if you look at the context of EU spending in general".

Paul Wilkinson, a St Andrews University expert in the study of terrorism, welcomed the funding for science and technology projects but said that more funding was needed for social sciences.

"It would help to protect society more effectively if we knew more about the processes of terrorist recruitment, motivation, radicalisation, tactics and targeting," he said.

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