Spending review: Osborne protects research in real terms

However, there is confusion over the final value of the settlement, which may include 'tucking in' of Global Challenges fund

November 25, 2015
George Osborne

The chancellor George Osborne has said that research funding will be protected in real terms over the course of this Parliament in what is being seen as a better than expected result for universities.

Setting out the government’s spending review today, Mr Osborne said that funding for science would be protected in real terms – rather than cash terms, as it has been since 2010 – and would rise to £4.7 billion by 2020-21.

However, the spending review document said that it was "today's £4.7 billion science resource funding" that would be protected in real terms, suggesting that the final budget at the end of the Parliament would actually be higher.

This would, though, include a "new £1.5 billion Global Challenges" fund, raising fears that the result for other research funding would in effect be a cut.

BIS confirmed that the wording in the document "was correct", suggesting a mistake in Mr Osborne's speech, meaning that the current £4.7 billion research budget was being protected in real terms, and was set to rise by £500 million over the course of this Parliament.

Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, had been quoted as saying that a continuation of the previous “flat-cash” settlement was the best possible outcome.

In his speech, Mr Osborne said: “In the modern world one of the best ways you can back business is by backing science. That’s why in the last Parliament, I protected the resource budget for science in cash terms."

The chancellor also said the recommendations from a review of research councils by Sir Paul Nurse would be implemented. The report, released last week, recommends creating a new body called Research UK to coordinate the strategies of the existing seven research councils, and the creation of a fund to back research that cuts across them.


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