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Letter to fellows from RAS President following Gemini Observatory announcement

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 December 2007 16:49
Published on Tuesday, 04 December 2007 00:00
RAS President Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson has written to Fellows outlining our activity since the announcement that the STFC proposes to withdraw the UK from the Gemini Observatory...
Dear Fellow,

I'm sure you will have heard something about the STFC funding problems following the CSR outcome for 2008-11 and the consequent announcement of the plan to withdraw from the Gemini Observatory.

I'd like to tell you what the RAS has been doing about this.

Firstly on the day of the Gemini announcement we put out a Council statement (see Council statement on STFC decision to withdraw UK from Gemini Observatory) emphasizing the importance of continued access to Gemini North.  There was a letter in the Guardian signed by senior members of the community, articles in The Telegraph and Independent.  I did an interview on the Today programme and there will be pieces in Nature, Science and Physics World.  I wrote a piece for Research Fortnight which came out on the day of the STFC Council meeting and which I sent to Council members (my original text appears on the RAS web page).

The STFC settlement for 2008-11 appears to amount to a 7% cut in the overall programme, once the costs of inflation and of Full Economic Costs are taken into account.  Part of the shortfall is associated with cost overruns on large CCLRC facilities like Diamond and ISIS.  We are lobbying vigorously that these problems should not fall on the astronomy programme and I have written to the Minister for Science about this.  However there will have to be some reduction in volume in the astronomy research programme and probably of the whole physics programme.  I think few of us assumed that Full Economic Costs could be implemented without some cut in research volume and we have to hope that this will be as small as possible.  The overall physics funding to universities should still be increasing and it is up to Departments to lobby for universities to pass these benefits on to them.

We are coordinating our campaign on this very closely with the Institute of Physics.  We expect there to be an announcement of the Research Councils'
spending plans on December 11th and the IoP and RAS are planning a joint community meeting on December 12th (detailed announcement to follow).

Meanwhile I do encourage you to ask your MP to question the Government about cuts to physics in general and astronomy in particular.

As soon as we know more we will let you know.


Michael Rowan-Robinson