Lukewarm reception for Blair's mission to bolster research

March 11, 2005

The Prime Minister arrived at Imperial College London this week to trumpet a "record investment for science", but the response from the science community was lukewarm, writes Anna Fazackerley.

With an announcement of the date of a general election expected soon, the Labour Party tried hard to woo academic voters with a promise that it would "make Britain the best place in the world for science".

Accompanying Tony Blair was Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, who announced that the Government would give science £10 billion over the next three years. The money will include £440 million for clinical research and £150 million on energy research to help address climate change.

Much of the research council allocations have been committed to the drive to pay 80 per cent of the true economic costs of the research conducted in universities. In addition, £60 million has been allocated to shore up troubled areas such as engineering, with the aim of attracting talent from across the world.

But while there was general appreciation of the mission to make British universities more sustainable, scientists were disappointed by the small amount of cash left over for new research.

Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said: "Initiatives to translate basic research findings into the clinic and biotechnology industry are welcome, but they will be short lived if there are not sufficient increases in funding for the basic science required to underpin them."

Stephen Cox, the executive secretary of the Royal Society, said: "While the overall allocations show continued significant investment in science and innovation by this Government, it is important to note that relatively little of the increased funding is being made available to respond to new project proposals by scientists outside the earmarked research areas such as energy and stem cells."

Despite extra funding to support struggling disciplines such as the physical sciences, a spokesperson for the Royal Society of Chemistry said:

"We would still point to the urgent need for more funding through the Higher Education Funding Council for England for core science subjects such as chemistry, mathematics and physics to ensure that vice-chancellors are not tempted to close these departments to balance their budgets."

 

Science budget allocations

 

£000s

04-05*

05-06**

06-07**

07-08**

Research councils

2,210,199

2,436,634

2,640,409

2,792,943

AHRC

67,746

80,536

91,379

97,092

BBRSC

287,571

336,186

371,644

381,829

CCLRC

1,940

167,004

182,256

212,507

EPSRC

497,318

567,992

634,094

717,972

ESRC

105,252

123,265

142,268

150,136

MRC

455,9

478,787

503,461

546,514

NERC

314,256

338,447

363,767

371,648

PPARC

4,037

293,916

306,540

315,245

*Allocated, **Proposed

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