Bumper grants to cover infrastructure costs means fewer projects
The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is to cut the volume of science it funds over the next three years - despite netting an 18.6 per cent increase to its budget from the government in October 2007, Chemistry World has learned.
The cut is necessary because all research councils have committed to increase the size of every grant they give, to help universities cover the costs of maintaining labs, equipment and infrastructure. This means that the new ’Full Economic Costs’ (FEC) grants are more expensive - in some cases, more than double the cost of grants under the old regime, which did not provide money for infrastructure costs.
The EPSRC expects that its budget will increase from around ?711 million in 2007-08 to over ?843 million by 2010-11. Yet despite this, implementing the Full Economic Costs grants means that the EPSRC is facing lean times, with less money than it needs to even sustain the current volume of research it funds.
’The council estimates that there will be a slight reduction in real terms in the level of research volume over the period,’ EPSRC said in a statement. ’EPSRC will continue to work with the community to manage demand.’
The research council was unable to confirm whether this would make it harder for academic researchers to win grants in the coming year.
Peter Cotgreave, director of public affairs at the Royal Society - the UK’s national academy of science - commented: ’When last year’s budget was announced, the society voiced its concerns about the apparently healthy increases in science investment disappearing amidst changing accounting practices.’
’It is disappointing that for EPSRC this seems to have been the case and that it will not be possible to sustain, let alone increase, the volume of research it funds,’ he added.
Nick Dusic, director of the Campaign for Science & Engineering in the UK, said, ’Research councils are being asked to look at the economic impact of research in a way that is putting basic research under pressure. The UK cannot be a place for world class science if research councils cut their investment in basic research.’
Dusic added that much of the increase in the science budget had been earmarked for specific cross-council research programmes to address government priorities - such as energy and ageing - putting basic research funds under further strain.
The Royal Society of Chemistry said that that FEC was a ’positive step’ towards more fully supporting the costs of university research but a fall in the volume of research funded would lead to ’a dangerous reduction in the diversity of original science in the UK’.
A spokesman for the Department for innovation, universities and skills said that each research council is responsible for prioritising its activities in key areas of research.