Submission from the Standing Conference
of Astronomy Professors (SCAP)
The SCAP is an independent body representing
those UK Professors who research and teach in subjects relating
to space physics and all of the Universe beyond the Earth's lower
atmosphere. In the following, the meaning of the word "astronomy"
should therefore be interpreted as including: space environment
and exploration physics; solar and planetary science; astrophysics
and cosmology; and related work in cutting-edge technology and
instrumentation, e-science and high-performance computing.
I write to you as Chair of SCAP, to communicate
outcomes of a special SCAP meeting held on January 16 in London.
This meeting was attended by 40 professors from 18 universities.
The present letter also incorporates the views expressed in writing
by SCAP members who were not able to be present at the meeting.
We endorse the main points made in a joint submission from the
Institute of Physics and the Royal Astronomical Society, which
accompanied their letter to you dated January 11.
The SCAP wishes to emphasise the following particular
and additional crucial points.
1. Astronomy and space physics research groups
and their university departments provide a superb and extensive
training environment for future generations of scientists. We
estimate that around half of all physics students are attracted
into the subject by astronomy and space physics. This effectively
provides billions of pounds' worth of training of a highly skilled
science workforce for the UK economy.
2. Our subjects also make a substantial positive
impact on the economy via knowledge transfer into high-technology
and advanced computing and software. Furthermore they contribute
enormously to the development of a science-literate culture, by
enthusing society with the results of astronomical and space research.
3. The apparent STFC funding uplift within
the CSRO7 allocations actually falls far short (to the extent
of some £80 million) of covering the responsibilities assigned
to the new Research Council following the merger of its predecessor
Research Councils PPARC and CCLRC.
4. The £80 million shortfall will necessitate
a considerable cut in research volume in key areas of astronomy
and space physics which are recognized as world-leading. This
will affect many universities and also STFC's developing science
innovation campuses. In turn, this will surely have a crippling
impact on the training programmes. Already, the current crisis
appears to be having a very adverse effect on the morale of postgraduate
and undergraduate students, and this will inevitably deter many
potential future students, thus undermining some of the Government's
laudable initiatives to generate a workforce trained in the sciences.
5. The precipitous nature of the cuts is
forcing the UK to withdraw undiplomatically from high profile
international facilities in our subjects, for example, the Gemini
Telescopes. Such cuts may therefore reflect badly on the UK's
reliability as an international partner across a much wider range
6. A significant contribution to the current
problems has been the fact that the "near-cash" fraction
of STFC's budget is much smaller than for the other research councils.
The very exploitation of astronomy facilities which generates
the attraction for students, training, etc, is thus dramatically
squeezed by funding fluctuations. A fair way of mitigating these
effects is for increased running costs of major facilities such
as Diamond and ISIS to be allocated to the research councils who
most use them.
7. Compensation for changes in international
subscriptions should be borne at higher level by the Treasury.
These subscriptions raise the UK's overall profile on the international
stage, and generate significant revenues from contracts placed
with UK industry.
8. Serious consideration should be given
to establishing methods for including the more indirect and long-term
benefits of world-class pure science research (points 1 and 2
above, and eg the creation of the World Wide Web in CERN) within
all calculations of economic impact. Concentrating too much on
near-market impacts seriously risks squeezing huge benefits out
of the equation and thence out of the UK.
Some more detailed information on these points
is included below in an appendix to this letter.
In conclusion, members of the Standing Conference
of Astronomy Professors are deeply concerned both by the immediate
impact of precipitous cuts in this basic research, and by the
longer-term implications. We urge that steps be taken both in
the short term to prevent irreversible unplanned decline, and
in the longer term to place such fundamental research on a sustainable
footing. Investments in STFC basic science will be repaid many