Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 12

Submission from the Australian Institute of Physics


  I am the President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

  I am writing to express the serious concern of the Australian Physics community at the abrupt set of decisions made by your government to reduce the funding of important major physics initiatives and physics research in general. The planned budget cut of 80 million over the next three years will lead to job losses at universities and three leading research laboratories; a 25 per cent cut in university grants; withdrawal from a number of high-profile programmes such as the International Linear Collider and lead to some university physics departments losing up to £750,000 in income.

  The basis for our concerns is the following:

    1.  Such a sudden decision to cease involvement with long term multi-national research programs is damaging the stellar international reputation of UK science. UK researchers have been leaders in so many aspects of fundamental research which at the time did not have any clear path to impact but subsequently became the basis for modern civilization. The work of Maxwell and Faraday are two classic examples. The involvement in the multi-national research programs will have a similar impact on society when they reach fruition.

    2.  These decisions were made with a profound lack of consultation. Many physicists have committed significant effort to participate and contribute to these international and large research programs usually with high personal cost, and the commitment demonstrated is far beyond their financial rewards. Even researchers at university departments and government laboratories are committed and effective in their research usually driven by the desire to undertake work that will make a difference. Sudden decisions leading to the cutting these research programs is insulting and belittling of the vocation of a scientist. It is well known that the financial return for many scientists is not commensurate with their level of training and hours worked compared to other professions. Furthermore, the sudden removal of support for multinational research programs places the burden of funding on other nations and may put the whole research program which has had significant investment to date, under threat. Many of these programs are close to achieving important results that may change the way we understand the basis of existence and the potential for energy generation. Many other fundamental research programs may be lost with that investment wasted.

    3.  The long term consequences will be far greater than the relatively small savings in relation to the overall science research budget. Physics research contributes to 6.4% (Gross Value Added) of the UK economy which is equivalent to the financial, banking and insurance sector. 5% of jobs in the UK are in physics-based technology companies (Centre for Economics and Business Research Ltd, September 2007). Furthermore the UK is already beginning to fall behind in international competitiveness. The current plans to cut physics research will lead to further exacerbation of this decline and the potential reduction in the UK industry sectors reliant on physics-based innovation.

    4.  The lack of support and the demolition of careers for some physicists will have a ripple effect with young people not believing that a career in physics is sustainable or reliable and they will seek out other careers in professions that are not producing the innovation needed to drive a successful economy.

  I urge your government to reconsider the very damaging decisions recently made and determine another way to achieve the reduction in the national budget that your government is seeking. The savings of 80 million over three years will be rapidly overshadowed by reduced international economic competitiveness, reduction in the development of innovative physics—ased technologies that provide significant employment and economic activity in the UK, loss of innovation, reduction in young people aspiring to be the future generation of innovators and irreparable loss of the high level of international reputation.

February 2008

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