Spain's Science Budget Proposal: Not as Bad as Feared, But Not Good

After weeks during which Spanish researchers fretted nervously about possibly significant cuts to their country's science budget, Spanish Science and Innovation Minister Cristina Garmendia tried this morning in a press conference to give a reassuring message to the scientific community: the ministry will have about the same amount of money next year as proposed in 2010 with which to fund competitive research projects and scholarships, support national research institutes, and give loans to R&D companies. But the 2011 science budget Garmendia highlighted actually represents an overall decrease when compared to what was ultimately allocated for 2010, and the scientific community in Spain is already criticizing the new budget.

Spain's 2011 national budget, which the government proposed last Thursday, has allocated to the science and innovation ministry about €5.354 million. This overall figure represents an increase of 1.20% compared with the budget proposed last year for the science ministry, but in reality the 2011 proposal would produce a 1.65% decrease because the 2010 science budget was boosted during parliamentary debates.

The ministry noted that the 2011 proposal for funding given out to public research institutes under the form of lump sums will largely remain the same as proposed in 2010, and that the money distributed as competitive grants would increase by 5.08% in this comparison. But when measured against what was ultimately allocated for 2010, the picture is not as rosy. In addition to proposed cuts in the ministry's own running and infrastructure expenses, lump sums for research institutes would decrease by 0.09% and research money for competitive calls by 5.78%. The ministry's overall payroll—including for civil servants in public research institutes—will also go down by 1.52% following a new law passed in May that reduces the salaries of all public staff by 5%.

Spanish science did at least do better in the 2011 budget proposal than most other ministries. If the science ministry had received the same level of funding cuts as the other ministries, it would have been faced with a 10.9% decrease in its overall budget compared with the budget proposed for 2010. "The government, in a context of austerity, has made a clear bet for research as a lever for the change of production model" toward a knowledge-based economy, Garmendia says.

The scientific community has done its own analysis of the budget and is far from happy. In a preliminary report released yesterday, the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE) found that, when taking all research activities in various ministries together, the science budget is set to decrease by 8.37% in 2011, down to €8.497 million. COSCE notes that compared with 2009, the 2010 global science budget had already been cut by about 5%.

According to COSCE, its preliminary analysis confirms "the fear that research, development, and innovation is going to suffer another cut which, accumulated to the one that occurred last year and to the near stagnation in real terms of the 2009 budget, means that the alarms aren't gratuitous and that an urgent call must be made to try to redirect the situation."