Public research spending ‘falls below 0.5% of GDP’

Scientists are being urged to lobby MPs and parliamentary candidates to back an increase in the UK’s level of public investment in research

March 13, 2015

The Tell Them Science is Vital campaign, launched on 13 March to coincide with the start of British Science Week, follows analysis by the volunteer-run organisation revealing that the UK’s level of public investment in research slipped to 0.48 per cent of GDP by 2012: the lowest figure for any Group of Eight country in the past 20 years.

The Science is Vital group, set up to campaign for the research budget ahead of the 2010 spending review, has been calling since 2013 for UK science spending to be raised to the average for G8 countries, which was 0.8 per cent in 2011, the last year for which full figures are available.

The group attributes the UK’s low expenditure to the flat-cash settlement for the research budget imposed by the coalition government in 2010, plus significant reductions in research spending by government departments and big cuts to capital expenditure in 2010 that have only partially been compensated for by subsequent additional pledges.

In the 2013 spending round, chancellor George Osborne committed to significant increases in the science capital budget until 2020-21. But Andrew Steele, a researcher at Cancer Research UK and vice-chair of Science is Vital, who carried out the analysis, says this is unlikely to raise the proportion of the UK’s GDP accounted for by research spending above 0.5 per cent.

“With the economy continuing to recover, inflation still eroding the core science budget and no sign of departmental research budget cuts abating, the relatively small increase in investment through additional capital funding seems unlikely to increase investment above 0.5 per cent,” he said.

The UK’s expenditure has declined from a high of 0.6 per cent of GDP in 2009, according to the group’s analysis of data from Unesco’s Institute for Statistics. In 2011, 0.89 per cent of Germany’s GDP was accounted for by public spending on research, in the US the figure was 0.86 per cent, it was 0.82 in France and 0.74 in Russia.

Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London and another vice-chair of Science is Vital, said: “The UK research base has a world-class reputation but it has been allowed to decline through the years of austerity.

“We urgently need to reinvest to maintain the quality of the research and training done in the UK, and to be able to face the future with confidence and purpose.”

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