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U.K. Research Minister Signals Coming Austerity on Science
8 September 2010 11:20 am
Researchers in the United Kingdom are anxiously waiting to see what damage may be inflicted on R&D funding by the government's budget deficit. Levels of funding for the next few years will be revealed in the government's Comprehensive Spending Review, due out on 20 October.
In a speech today at Queen Mary, University of London, Vince Cable, the minister for business, innovation and skills—who is also ultimately responsible for research—spoke enthusiastically about science but gave little away about the cuts to come. "I think I have made it clear that science, research, and innovation are vital to this country’s future economic growth. But we have to operate in a financially constrained environment," he said.
He pointed out that several countries, in similar financial straits, have decided to increase spending on research, such as the United States, China, Germany, and Sweden. But there was no indication that the United Kingdom would be going down this route. "My preference is to ration research funding by excellence and back research teams of international quality—and screen out mediocrity—regardless of where they are and what they do," Cable said. "I support, of course, top class 'blue skies' research, but there is no justification for taxpayers' money being used to support research which is neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding."
Other researchers were not impressed. “The U.K. leads the world in science and engineering and yet today Dr. Cable had nothing exciting or inspiring to say about government policy in this area," says Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, says: "Any contraction in the U.K.’s science and higher education budgets will signal a narrowing of this country’s vision for its role in the world, a withdrawal from its current international leadership role in science."