Submission from the Russell Group of Universities
The impact on The Russell Group of Universities
The field of physics generates significant gains
for the UK economy. Key contributions to the national economy
High R&D spending: Spending on
R&D in physics-based sectors amounted to £3.3 billion
in 2004almost a quarter (24%) of total R&D spending
in the UK. Physics-based sectors are a significant contributor
to Government's R&D spending target.
Significant export volumes: Physics-based
industries accounted for almost a third of the UK's exports in
2005. Physics-based sectors exported £92.9 billion and imported
£109.8 billion worth of goods and services. This accounted
for 29% of the total value of UK exports and 30% of imports.
National output: Businesses using
modern and advanced elements of physics in their business processes
contribute £70 billion to national GDP, making up 6.4% of
the UK's total output (this is comparable to the economic output
produced by the finance, banking and insurance sector combined)
High productivity: When productivity
in physics-based industries is compared across all industries
in the UK, the physics-based sector comes out as a high performerbeing
almost twice as productive as the average. In 2005, GVA per employee
in physics-based sectors was approximately £69,000; about
70% higher than in the UK as a whole.
Job creation: The physics-based sector
has created one million jobs, concentrated in 32,000 businesses,
and more than one million indirectly supported by these businesses.
A STRATEGIC AND
Despite physic's valuable contribution to the
UK economy, some worrying trends have led to it being defined
as a "strategic and vulnerable subject":
Significant closures of physics departments:
Since 1994, the number of physics departments has declined by
30%. According to Materials Today, UK department closures have
more to do with funding not matching the costs of lab-based subjects.
Numbers of physics undergraduates have actually been rising, albeit
not as fast as in other subjects. The University of Reading announced
the closure of its (29 faculty-strong) physics department in 2010,
due to the university's inability to "subsidise the loss-making
Concern about the supply of graduates:
The Confederation of British Industry has continually voiced concern
over the lack of physics graduates available to UK science-based
companies. In March 2007, the CBI warned that more students must
study science (including physics), engineering, and technology
or the UK will lose its world-leading position in industries such
as aerospace. In August 2007, it noted that science and engineering
companies are already struggling to fill posts. 80% of engineering
or industrial companies and 67% of energy, water or utility companies
expect a shortfall in overall graduate recruits this year.
Increased competition from international
competitors: Other countries have made firm commitments to increasing
science (physics) funding. A reinforced commitment to maintain
physics spending is a key step government could take in addressing
these global challenges.
Since 1999, China's spending on
research and development has increased by more than 20 per cent
each year. Spending by central government in 2006 reached £4.7
billion, compared with £3.2 billion by the UK.
South Korea has increased its scientific
research workforce by 70,000 and increased public funding on R&D
from 2005 to 2006 by 15%. With its "U-Korea" programme,
public and private funding will exceed £35 billion by 2010
and Korea aims to rank among the top ten countries for nanotechnology
In the US, President Bush signed
into law "H.R. 4664", a five-year reauthorization bill
for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which authorizes a
doubling of the NSF budget over five years.
On 30 November 2007, Vladmir Putin
promised to boost Russia's public spending on science to more
than 400 billion rubles (approx £8 billion) by 2010, which
is twice this year's spending. Such international commitments
to the funding of science will certainly impair the UK's ability
to compete with other countries, economically and technologically.
OF STFC PROJECTED
£80 MILLION OVER
The Russell Group of Universities wishes to
highlight the possible impact of a £80 million deficit for
STFC in the following three areas:
Increasing vulnerability of physics
departments: physics is already recognised as a strategically
important and vulnerable subject. One of the significant funding
streams for physics departments is grants from STFC. Therefore,
any reduction in grant funding from STFC would have a negative
impact on the financial planning of departments and the robustness
of their future financial stability.
Impact of grant cuts: we understand
that a number of factors have contributed to the STFC's projected
funding deficit but funding of grants should not be seen by STFC
as a soft target to resolve the problem. Amongst other consequences,
this would lead to a greatly demoralised staff and risk the medium
and long-term health of physics in the UK.
Utilisation of investment in leading
facilities: significant long-term funding has been invested in
ensuring that the UK has internationally leading facilities in
recognition of the strategic importance of doing so. STFC grants
and funded activity are essential to ensure that the best use
is made of these facilities and the significant investment already
made by the UK government in this area.
In many Russell Group universities,
STFC funding accounts for 30% and upwards of departmental budgets
in a range of subject areas such as physics, astronomy and applied
mathematics. In some highly-focussed research departments, STFC
funding accounts for over 80% of grant income.
At some of these universities, a
cut in the range of 25-30% would equate to many millions of pounds.
In addition to project and facilities funding, STFC funds supports
hundreds of academic staff, postdoctoral researchers and PhD studentships.
Universities need a period of adjustment where a future trajectory
of existing programmes could be modified and future programmes
Russell Group universities have projected
that departmental research income would be severely hit, projects
would be halted and support staff would be disproportionately
cut. PhD student recruitment would be hard hit due to lack of
fellowships available and undergraduate admissions into physics
would suffer. Our main concerns regarding impact lie in the following
Project funding: as STFC has placed
great emphasis on ensuring the viability of projects, a 25-40%
cut would make these projects no longer feasible, requiring the
same approximate 25-40% of the projects be cut completely.
Returns to international commitments:
there is a strong argument to be made for protecting existing
commitments in this area as cuts would place at risk the UK global
position that it has worked long to establish. In addition, as
returns on international subscriptions, such as CERN, ESA &
ESO, are materialising, the timing of these cuts are particularly
problematic. The UK's ability to participate in and deliver on
international commitments would also be called into question.
In addition, these cuts will make it increasingly hard to recruit
Undergraduates into physics: as Astronomy
or Particle Physics are the two of the strongest attractors of
undergraduates into the field, cuts from the STFC would drastically
affect recruitment from the undergraduate level, further eroding
the number of home-grown physicists.
Knock-on effects: funding cuts from
STFC will have knock-on effects of increasing the competition
and demand for funding from other councils and funding sources.
As an example of additional effects of these cuts, the Universities
of Glasgow and Edinburgh have noted that any cuts will have a
particularly damaging effect on their participation in Scottish
Universities Physics Alliance II, part of Scottish research pooling.
A large part of the SUPA-II bid was a collaborative bid with STFC
was to begin development work on the International Linear Collider.
If this funding collapses, it could lose both £3 million
investment from STFC and very large future grants.