Labour's Parting Shots? Twenty-Thousand Students, £250 Million for London Super Lab, and More

With less than 2 months before the expected date of a general election, the United Kingdom's Labour government is making the best of its bully pulpit. Yesterday it released the 2010-11 budget, which offered little news for researchers but did include a token of support for higher education—a one-off payment to universities to allow for an additional 20,000 students—slots largely intended for those pursuing the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). Avoiding a potentially disastrous political mess, the budget did not propose the massive cuts in government spending that many in Britain believe will come after the election. While government leaders indicated last year that they intend to trim £600 million from higher education and science spending, the budget does not elaborate on how they will do so. Earlier this week, the House of Commons science committee released a report about how such cuts could damage Britain's research enterprise.

Today saw another string of pro-science announcements, including £2.5 million for new Newton Scholarships to help 100 top research students, an affirmation of plans to spend £250 million on a massive biomedical lab in London, and a promise to appoint the first Minister for Life Sciences. The government has also asked the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) to conduct a rapid assessment of the United Kingdom's regulations on clinical research with an eye toward eliminating red-tape, a review AMS called for in a report earlier this year. Still, whether these projects and pledges survive a general election may depend less on their individual worth and more on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's performance in upcoming televised debates that will pit him against candidates for his job.