A recent report on investment in scientific infrastructure has come to the conclusion that science funding in recent years has not been strategic enough. Ministers have been taking a short term view, selecting and funding a few so called ‘pet-projects’, that may or may not be representative of the UK’s research needs. This leaves some research groups, who may be doing vital science, struggling to find adequate funds, whilst the select few prosper. This needs to stop, in particular when there is so little money to go round.
Plans have recently emerged from The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to cut the science budget by £215m. This is equivalent to around 2000 academic positions and 700 PhD students, presenting a serious threat to the scientific community. All sectors in our society have suffered in the recession, and it would be unfair to ring-fence science as the only industry where budget cuts do not apply. However, science is at the cornerstone of our modern society. Almost everything we now have is a result of good scientific research. In addition to this, science is now a truly global industry. If UK research is not sufficiently supported, we will not be able to compete on a global level with other countries that invest heavily in science.
With less funding comes a greater need for good planning and strategy. Randomly assigning the money to a select few projects that ministers find interesting is not an acceptable way forward. We need collaboration between politicians, scientists and the research councils to make long term plans, identify key research priorities, and decide how to distribute the budget. Only then can we build a world-class scientific community.