An anticipated £1.5 billion boost for science in this Monday's Treasury spending review is expected to provide significantly more money for researchers' salaries and PhD stipends.
But there is still a question about the scale of the investment chancellor Gordon Brown will make in general university funding, including the cash needed for teaching and the planned expansion in student numbers.
Mr Brown has said that the review, which will detail plans for spending in 2003-06, will do more to improve the recruitment, retention and training of scientists and engineers.
The government's chief scientific adviser, David King, has said that he wants top salaries for those entering academia to match those of peers who take City jobs.
It is hoped that extra money will also allow the full funding of university research in 2003-06. The improvement in research quality, revealed by last year's research assessment exercise, has not been reflected in the money made available for university departments in 2002-03. Sir Gareth Roberts, whom the Treasury commissioned to report on the supply of scientists, told MPs last week that he expected the government to meet the commitments of the RAE after next year.
It is also expected that a sizeable chunk of the extra money will be earmarked to upgrade laboratories and to buy new equipment to help meet an estimated £3 billion backlog. There could also be support for initiatives to pay undergraduates to teach science in schools and to encourage industry involvement in science.
A £1.5 billion increase over three years would deliver the level of funding recommended by Sir Gareth. He said it could cost as much as £4 billion to put science funding on a level equivalent to that of 30 years ago, before science spending started to slide. He said the recommended level could be achieved if it were phased in over seven years, as he proposed. He said: "In universities, it will take time to invest. It is pointless pushing funding in too quickly."
The UK spends only 1.83 per cent of its gross domestic product on science research and development. In this year's budget, Mr Brown announced tax credits worth £400 million to help boost UK industry's spending on R&D.
In the two previous spending reviews, science infrastructure was given £1.75 billion by the government and the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust is not expected to offer any cash with this year's spending review.
The prospects of a hike in general funding for higher education are less clear. Universities UK has asked Mr Brown for an extra £9.94 billion between 2003 and 2006. Part of the bid was for a £2.6 billion investment, recurrent and capital, in research. The science cash may provide part of this.
Teaching infrastructure comprised the biggest single component of the UUK bid. It sought £1.26 billion in revenue funding over the three years and £2.65 billion in capital funding, mainly to deal with a backlog of refurbishments and to build the extra facilities that universities will need to handle the extra students they will have to recruit to meet the government's 50 per cent participation target by 2010. The bill for pay and human resources tops £1.2 billion.
Baroness Warwick, chief executive of UUK, said: "Universities UK wants to see in the spending review a recognition that immediate and substantial investment is vital if we are to avoid harming not only the quality of students' learning experience but also Britain's competitiveness in the global marketplace."