Government Science and Technology committee criticises 'arbitrary' funding cuts

Stop spending cuts now or risk devastating British science and the economy, says a report published today by the UK government’s Science and Technology Committee. 

The House of Commons committee strongly opposes the ?600 million cuts planned for the higher education and science budgets and call it ’an entirely arbitrary figure imposed by Treasury diktat’ in their report published today. 

The committee claims that the proposed budget cuts are inconsistent with the government commitment to science and research funding to build a stronger knowledge based economy. It calls on the government to increase, rather than decrease, spending on science within the next budget, expected later this week. ’The size of cuts to science are unlikely to make a significant dent in the deficit,’ says the report. 


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Cuts are unlikely to help lessen the budget deficit

Government is committed to supporting business investment in R&D through the taxation system, but the very existence of such businesses depends upon the size and strength of the science base underpinning them, the committee says. Without a healthy science base, there will be no companies to give tax breaks to, it warns.

Recommendations are also given to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) on the contentious topic of research impact assessment. The committee does not believe that the proposed Research Excellence Framework will be able to accurately measure impact despite Hefce’s best efforts. ’The difficulties associated with capturing past impacts effectively and allocating funds fairly on the basis of them will be insurmountable,’ the report says.

While supportive of RCUK’s efforts to encourage the research community to consider the impact of their research, the committee calls for better guidance to avoid misinterpretation of the role of impact in grant applications. RCUK needs to make it more clear that researchers are not being asked to ’predict’ their impact, and the councils must not be tempted to use potential impacts as a tie-breaker in funding decisions, says the report. 

The document also emphasises the importance of supporting people in science. Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of research intensive universities, agrees that sustained funding is important to attract the best academics. ’If there is even a perception that British science is suffering as a result of cuts, the UK will become a less attractive place for academics to work,’ she said. 

Many of the recommendations made by the Science and Technology Committee resonate with a recent report published by the Council for Science and Technology and another by the Royal Society, which focuses on putting science at the centre of long-term economic growth and strengthened investment in people. Nick Dusic, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomes the Science and Technology Committee report as it reinforces the wealth of evidence for continued funding in science research. ’We now want to see the party policies on science ahead of the election,’ he says.  

Leila Sattary

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