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RAS: some improvement for astronomy in STFC Programmatic Review, but real concern over grants

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 April 2010 15:02
Published on Wednesday, 09 July 2008 00:00
The RAS has cautiously welcomed the improvement in project funding announced in the STFC Programmatic Review but remains very concerned about the cuts to research grants. President Professor Fabian said in a letter to the Times ,' British astronomy represents exceptional value for money, with a relatively low budget delivering the highest number of published scientific papers in the world after the US. The Government should step in to address this funding gap before serious damage is done to world-class science'. The RAS welcomes the improvement in the number of astronomy projects that will receive funding, announced in the final version of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Programmatic Review. Following reports from peer review panels who themselves considered feedback from more than 1400 respondents, some previously threatened projects have now been secured, although the overall budget remains the same.

In the 2008-11 spending round, STFC remains £80m short of the level of funding required to maintain activity at present levels with around £33m of that associated with the Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear (PPAN) research areas.

The RAS regrets that the UK will close or no longer be involved with a number of world-class research facilities and space missions. These include the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network (BiSON), the VERITAS gamma-ray telescope, the Astrogrid computing project and the EISCAT radars studying the interaction between the Earth and the Sun.

The Society is also very concerned at the impact of the spending shortfall on research grants. This is set to take full effect by 2010 when university research groups will see a 25% decline in available funding. The RAS once again urges the Government to consider measures that will mitigate the impact of the funding shortfall.

However, despite these continuing concerns over grants, the RAS notes that STFC has responded to feedback from the scientific community and that the grading of some projects has changed as a result. The Society welcomes the commitment from STFC to be transparent and open about the future decisions on science funding and the pledge to consult with the scientific community at the outset of future Programmatic Reviews.

The RAS also looks forward to working with STFC in our joint effort to promote astronomy and space science to the media, Government and Opposition politicians.

Professor Andy Fabian, President of the RAS, acknowledged the positive steps taken by STFC. He commented, “the situation with projects has improved significantly since the spring National Astronomy Meeting, but grants remain a major concern. STFC needs to involve more senior active astronomers in the astronomy decision-making process, so that the community can see and be confident that funding is allocated on the basis of scientific merit.”