Labour 'usurps' scientists in setting priorities

April 2, 2009

The Government is "quietly usurping" the principle that decisions about research spending should be made by academics, not politicians, the Conservatives claimed this week.

Speaking ahead of a speech to science leaders at the Royal Society, Adam Afriyie, the Shadow Science Minister, said the Government should stop pretending that the Haldane principle "stood unaffected" as ministers tried to use science to drive the economy.

Named after Liberal politician Richard Burdon Haldane, the principle enshrined the view that government should not interfere in research decisions.

Mr Afriyie told Times Higher Education that the Government now controlled 20 per cent of science spending, compared with 2 per cent in 1997. He also criticised Labour's controversial plan to align research funding with the UK's industrial strengths, and its request to the research councils for a "shopping list" of science projects to stimulate the economy (see above).

"It is ... right that the Government sets the overall strategic priorities ... but I am concerned that it may be nudging or picking particular projects within that," he said.

Mr Afriyie added that there would be "no wholesale reform" of the current system of science governance under Conservative rule.

He said there should be "no uncertainty" that the dual-support system would be kept. The Tories saw science as key to pulling the UK out of the recession, and both curiosity-driven and applied research were vital, he added.

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