Mindful of very strong feelings in the entire astronomical community, the RAS Council expresses a lack of confidence in STFC’s handling of the current funding crisis:
(1) In its actions since it was formed, STFC has failed to pay sufficient attention to the part of its mission associated with the delivery of first class science in astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics.
(2) In making its bid to CSR2007, little emphasis was placed on the importance of these areas for UK science and for UK physics in particular. The DIUS does not seem to have been made sufficiently aware of the potential damage to the UK’s international science reputation and to UK Physics departments, despite the fact that the Government has made Physics a high-priority in its long-term economic policy. Astronomy and space science play a key role in attracting school-children to science and in drawing university students into physics and there is immense benefit to the UK economy of our skilled
Physics graduates. There is now a real danger that the recent improvement in Physics enrolment will be reversed
(3) The STFC’s Delivery Plan pays lip-service to the need to foster the UK academic community, who play the key role in delivery of all of STFC’s outputs – first class science, facility design and usage, and knowledge exchange, but has shown no evidence in its public statements or actions that it recognizes this duty. The 25% decline in grants across the CSR period, with no sign of any intention or even desire to level this out in later years, has filled the community with deep pessimism and anger.
(4) STFC has failed miserably to communicate with the community. The experience of the community prior to the formation of STFC has been good communication and a sense of engagement in decisions.
(5) STFC claims that its Delivery Plan has been and is being arrived at through a process of Peer Review. Unfortunately, despite no doubt very hard work of those involved in this process on PPAN, PALS and Science Board, the community has no confidence in this process and is unlikely to accept the outcome as fair. It was a catastrophic error not to set up an advisory structure below PPAN. The requirement of confidentiality for members of Council, the Science Board, and PPAN and PALS, goes far beyond any legal requirements.
(6) STFC needs to develop with the community a clear science strategy, so that both the community and those on STFC panels can make operational decisions with precision and clarity.
(7) In dealings with international partners, STFC needs to take advantage of the contacts and diplomatic skills of members of the community. A take-it-or-leave-it approach to an international partnership will never succeed.
RAS= Royal Astronomical Society
STFC= Science and Technology Facilities Council
CSR=Comprehensive Spending Review
DIUS=Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills
PPAN=Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Committee
PALS=Physical and Life Sciences Committee
The Particle Physics Action Group has welcomed and endorsed this statement