U.K. Research Leaders Make Final Stand Against Science Cuts

Top officials from six U.K. universities joined Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, in London today in a last-ditch attempt to avert the government's expected cuts in science funding, which will be detailed in its forthcoming comprehensive spending review, scheduled for release on 20 October . The defiant gathering follows U. K. business secretary Vince Cable's controversial speech earlier this month at The Queen Mary Bioenterprises Innovation Centre in London, in which he remarked that only research that has a commercial use or is "theoretically outstanding" should be funded by taxpayers. Cable's remarks come a few months after the U.K. research councils were told to submit budgets for scenarios involving a funding freeze and cuts of 10% and 20%.

At today's press briefing, Rees commented that Cable had been "poorly briefed" about how research grants are awarded before his speech. Simon Gaskell of Queen Mary, University of London, added to Rees's remarks by noting that he was "alarmed by [Cable's] lack of awareness" about how science research is translated into commercial use. "Based on his remarks, he didn't appear to be familiar with how common it is nowadays to find innovation centers adjacent to universities," says Gaskell.

The panelists also repeated comments that have been splashed across the media in the past week about the effects that science cuts would have on attracting and retaining top researchers (see articles in the Guardian and Chemistry World). And Rees reiterated the Royal Society's findings that a 20% cut to the U.K.'s £6 billion science budget would be the "game over" scenario, "irreversibly destroying the U.K.'s potential as a leading scientific nation."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reported yesterday that as part of the government's plans to cut public spending ,177 U.K. taxpayer-funded quangos (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations) will be abolished—including the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the Health Protection Agency, and a long list of other advisory and oversight panels related to research. A further 94 quangos—including the U.K. Atomic Energy agency and the Environment Agency—have an agonising 3-week wait before their fates are decided.