Health check for science

May 11, 2001

The Office of Science and Technology has commissioned a report into underinvestment in the university research structure. It will look at the problems that remain in the United Kingdom's science base despite £2 billion in extra funding from government and the Wellcome Trust.

JM Consulting will carry out the study of the higher education research infrastructure. It will concentrate on the factors that led to underinvestment and whether the Joint Infrastructure Fund and Science Research Investment Fund were sufficient to plug the gaps.

The OST said the £79,000 review would provide policy recommendations to "optimise levels of investment in the future".

A sample of 12 universities, ranging from the research intensive to those with very small research interests, will provide information for the study.

Representatives from the OST, the Department for Education and Employment, the Treasury, funding councils, devolved administrations and Universities UK will oversee the study, with results due to be published in November.

But despite having contributed more than £500 million to Jif and the SRIF, the Wellcome Trust was not involved in the steering group.

Robin Jackson, policy adviser at Universities UK, said: "Universities UK is happy to work with partners to ensure that the research infrastructure gap is adequately filled and that strategies are developed to make sure that it does not recur."

Peter Cotgreave, director of lobby group Save British Science, welcomed the review, saying it would bring hard facts to future policy decisions. But he said it was critical that salaries and running costs of facilities were not viewed as expendable by the review in favour of investments in buildings and equipment.

The under-investment in the UK science base was highlighted by the 1998 comprehensive spending review and again in the 2000 Cross-cutting Review of Science and Research.

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