Cautious welcome from scientists to government spending review

Academics have expressed relief that much-feared cuts to the country’s science budget have failed to materialise.

Chancellor George Osbourne’s Core Spending Review leaves the £4.6 billion budget flat for the next four years; and while inflation will mean that this actually represents a cut of about 10 percent, it’s still vastly better than expected.

It guarantees £2.75 billion for the country’s seven research councils, along with £1.6 billion for university research through the Higher Education Funding Council for England. £150,000 goes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund and £100,000 to national academies.

“The flat cash settlement for the core science budget is very welcome news in the context of this extremely tough Spending Review,” said president of the Royal Society Lord Martin Rees.

“The government has recognised the importance of sustaining the international standing of UK science in a context where other nations are forging ahead.”

However, he added that he still had areas of concern, especially with regard to capital spending, and the funding of universities.

Oxford University officials also have reservations about the announcement. While saying that the protection given to research funding was a welcome development, a spokesperson said that the planned cuts to teaching grants represented a setback.

“Cuts to the teaching grant under the CSR are likely to wipe out any benefit to Oxford that might otherwise come from the recent Browne Review proposals,” the spokesperson said.

“Already, funds that would otherwise be spent on research, infrastructure and postgraduate support at Oxford are being diverted to support the University’s world-class undergraduate tutorial system. We do not believe this is sustainable in the long-term.”

Fears of more severe cuts led to a demonstration outside the Treasury recently, and prompted warnings from science minister David Willetts of a brain drain to the US and elsewhere.

Full details of the spending review are available here.