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Autumn Statement: response from the Royal Astronomical Society

Last Updated on Monday, 14 December 2015 10:39
Published on Thursday, 04 December 2014 14:50

The UK Government yesterday published its Autumn Statement, which sets out public sector spending plans and expected economic performance.

ExoMars orbiter and roverThe ESA ExoMars programme will include an orbiting spacecraft and a rover on the surface of the planet. Credit: ESA.In science, new announcements included an additional commitment of £55m for the European Space Agency, to support exploration of Mars. A key part of this is the ExoMars programme, which includes a robotic rover expected to be on the red planet by the end of the decade, with a number of its instruments designed and built by UK space scientists.

The Government also announced a new loan scheme for postgraduate courses, with up to £10,000 available for applicants under the age of 30. This should help address the dearth of students on taught MSc courses, particularly in geophysics, where access to low-cost finance has deterred many potential candidates from lower-income backgrounds. Graduates of these courses are highly sought after and have an excellent record of taking up well paid employment in industry.

Prof Martin Barstow, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented: "The Society has been calling for support for postgraduate students for a number of years and the proposal is a welcome step in the right direction. The Government should extend the offer to all students in the near future, recognising that older students can move into STEM careers too.

"I also very much welcome the commitment to ExoMars, which will see a technologically advanced European-built rover driving on the surface of Mars in five years' time. Planetary scientists in the UK are closely involved with this exciting programme.

"To make the most of ExoMars and similar projects, the Government now needs to move beyond the flat cash budget which has constrained science activity since 2010. Funding cutting-edge science and technology has proven economic returns, a policy adopted by competitor nations around the globe. I want the UK to retain its place on the world stage – and to do that we have to invest in blue-skies sciences like astronomy and geophysics."