CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--British scientists are celebrating a windfall, announced last week by the U.K. government, to shore up deteriorating facilities and raise stipends for Ph.D. students. The 2-year, $1.7 billion spending boost is intended to keep the pool of British science well stocked, both by attracting more talented students into the field and stemming the flow of scientists out of the country.
The extra money, to begin in 2002, surpasses the wishes of the scientific community to extend the popular Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) beyond next year. Both are bankrolled by the government and The Wellcome Trust charity, but the new Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF) will spend at an annual rate almost double the 3-year, $1.2 billion JIF. The largesse amounts to a roughly 20% increase in the overall science budget, says Peter Cotgreave, director of the Save British Science Society. U.K. Chancellor Gordon Brown said that "the scale of this investment is unprecedented, ensuring world-class facilities for world-class science."
Government officials said the new fund hopes to ensure that the country's most productive institutions don't lose their edge. A cost-sharing provision aimed at making the money go further also favors well-endowed universities by extending a requirement, begun under JIF, that institutions contribute 25% to a project's overall cost. Major universities such as those at Oxford and Cambridge "will find it relatively easy to unlock the money," Cotgreave predicts. On the other hand, he says, the country's dozens of former polytechnics are likely to flounder in the hunt for matching funds.
To bolster the quantity and quality of future scientists, the government will also boost annual science and engineering Ph.D. stipends from $10,000 to $14,000 by 2004.
The moves "will go some way toward attracting and retaining good scientists in the U.K. science base," says Sir Aaron Klug, president of the Royal Society. However, Klug and others admit that it won't address another source of brain drain--U.K. postdocs headed to the United States for positions not available at home.