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(Slightly) better news on science funding

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 February 2014 14:18
Published on Thursday, 13 February 2014 13:04

Following on from the government Spending Review in December 2013, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has announced the budget allocations to the Research Councils, UK Space Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The two Research Councils that support UK astronomy and geophysics research are the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Since 2010, these bodies have had ‘flat cash’ resource budgets; meaning that inflation has already reduced their purchasing power by around 15% in that time.

elt 8 ccAn artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), a 39-m telescope with UK involvement set for first light in 2022. Credit: ESOIn the newly announced allocation, STFC will see a 4% rise in its total resource budget from £384.5m in 2014-15 to £400m in 2015-16. The capital allocation for STFC for 2015-16 is £129.1m. NERC receives an unchanged budget overall, with £289m in resource funding and £35m in capital funding in 2015-16.

The UK Space Agency will see a cut of 5% to its resource budget in cash terms for 2015-16, amounting to £9m. At the same time its capital allocation will rise by £19m to £158.1m.

As well as grant funding, universities in England receive support for research from HEFCE. At £1.57bn, the quality-related research funding (QR) will be unchanged in 2015-16. At the same time the teaching grant will fall from £2.861bn in 2013-14 to a predicted £1.669bn in 2015-16, equivalent to a cash cut of 41%. The total HEFCE support for universities will change from £5.014bn in 2013-14 to £4.008bn in 2015-16, a fall of 20%. The Government has however asked HEFCE to protect high-cost subjects such as science as far as possible and is planning for student fee income to offset this decline.

Professor Martin Barstow, President-elect of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented: “For the first time since 2010, the ring-fenced science budget will see a small rise. This, the additional support for STFC and the commitment to support the international subscriptions for facilities like the European Southern Observatory are all very welcome and demonstrate that the Government is serious about its support for science. I am nonetheless very concerned at the cut to the Space Agency resource budget, which seems likely to have a significant impact on space science and the severe cut to HEFCE support for teaching. Even with a rise in fee income universities, who are also being asked to take on more students in the years ahead, will struggle to absorb this and maintain the quality of their undergraduate work, particularly in high-cost subjects like astronomy and geophysics.”


Further information

BIS: pdfScience and research budget allocations

STFC: Science budget 2015/16

HEFCE: Funding for higher education in England for 2014-15