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

Memorandum 17

Submission from the University College Union


  1.  The University and College Union (UCU) represents more than 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK. We welcome the decision of the Innovation, Universities and Skills select committee to investigate the science budget allocations.

  2.  We have two main concerns about the science budget allocations. Firstly, the shortfall in funding for the Science and Technology Facilities Council requires it to curtail support for some major research initiatives with threats of job losses. Secondly, the allocations for university research capital (distinct from the research capital allocated via the HE funding councils) are being reduced by 28% over the three years of the 2007 CSR period.


  3.  During the period of CSR 2007, funding for the STFC will increase by 13.6%, from £573.5 million in 2007-8 to £651.6 million in 2010-11. By contrast, funding for the Medical Research Council will rise by 30.1%, and overall funding for UK research councils by 18.0%.

  4.  Although STFC funding is to go up by nearly £80 million, it will have an estimated shortfall of £80 million. After paying for items including:

    —  the increase in full economic costing of research grants to 80%

    —  investment in new facilities, including the Diamond synchrotron and ISIS Target Station 2; and

    —  subscription to international facilities, including the Large Hadron Collider at CERN

  the STFC will not have enough to fund all the items it planned to support.

  5.  As a result, the STFC will cease investment in various initiatives, including:

    —  the International Linear Collider;

    —  high-energy gamma ray astronomy experiments;

    —  the twin 8-metre Gemini telescopes.

  6.  In addition, the STFC is considering whether to continue further investment in the operation of the UK infrared telescope in Hawaii, Merlin, the Liverpool Telescope, Astro-Grid and investment in the US-led Dark Energy Survey.

  7.  It has been estimated that the shortfall in STFC funding may lead to a 25% cut in its grants to university physics departments. While STFC grant funding only forms a small proportion of the annual income of some physics departments, for others the STFC contribution is up to 75% or more of annual income.

  8.  Reductions in research grant funding will lead to loss of jobs, particularly among postdoctoral research students, and technical and support staff. Such staff will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace should funding levels recover in the future. Reductions will also undermine the creation of new knowledge, as well as knowledge transfer into society and the economy. The reductions will undermine the government's 10-year plan for science in the UK.

  9.  There is at this early stage considerable confusion and uncertainty about the impact of the STFC shortfall. A UCU member has sent the following comment on the potential impact in their department of the STFC cuts:

  I am afraid the situation is unclear at the moment. We have as yet received no official information as to what will happen with our Rolling Grant funding, for example, but the effects . . . are likely to be very serious if the cuts are implemented as proposed in the STFC Delivery Plan. We receive about 85% of our research funding from the STFC as we have large Nuclear and Particle Physics groups. One of the projects we are involved in . . . is associated with the International Linear Collider and has been cut in the STFC Delivery Plan. My first guess would be that . . . this will result in the loss of one Research Associate at my institute and probably in job losses at a further five institutes in the UK . . . (These numbers have to be treated as very approximate as, due to the lack of information from STFC, it is very unclear how they propose to implement the cuts—over what time scale etc. etc.) Cuts to Rolling Grants are also proposed at the 25% level. As you can see from this number and the 85% figure mentioned above, there is likely to be a significant number of further job losses . . . as a result of the cuts. At the moment, given the lack of information, I don't think I can give you much idea about possible numbers.


  10.  As noted above, the allocations for university science research capital (distinct from the research capital allocated via the HE funding councils) are being reduced by 28% over the 3 years of the 2007 CSR period, from £300 million in 2007-8 to £215 million in 2010-11.

  11.  Although the 2007 CSR period sees capital funding for university science research moving from the limited period funding under the Science Research Investment Fund to funding on a permanent basis under the New Capital Investment Fund, further investigation is required to see what impact this reduction is likely to have.

  12.  While there has been considerable improvement in funding for capital infrastructure in UK higher education since 2000, and further investment is planned to continue for the period of CSR2007 under the iterative amounts indicated via HEFCE in the DIUS press release of 11 December 2007, we are concerned to see this reduction in the capital funding provided via the science budget.


  13.  UCU is gathering information, from members and from physics departments in UK HEIs, about the specific impact of the underfunding of physics and astronomy through the shortfall in the STFC budget.

  14.  UCU is campaigning for the government to provide additional funding to make up the projected shortfall in STFC income. This includes making representations to government ministers about STFC funding.

  15.  UCU is also following up with the DIUS the future funding of university capital for science research allocated via the Science Budget, which is to fall by more than one quarter over the period of the 2007 CSR.

  16.  UCU has been actively campaigning for the protection of both science research and teaching at HEIs. The union has actively resisted department closures, although not always successfully—the closure of the physics department at Reading being the most recent case. Recent UCU research on STEM subjects shows a decline in the period 1998-2007 of 31% in the number of single honours chemistry courses offered in the UK, of 14% in single honours physics and of nearly 10% in single honours maths courses. In some regions of the UK, in 2007 there is only one provider of core science and maths subjects—a situation which could undermine widening participation aims.[33]

  17.  We believe that the 25% cut in STFC grant funding will threaten large numbers of research jobs and ultimately the viability of physics departments around the country.

  18.  UCU has long been concerned about the impact on research quality due to the lack of continuity of employment for many research staff in the UK. We have agreement from the DIUS that HEFCE should commission research on the impact of lack of job security as a deterrent to the brightest research students continuing in the HE sector.

  19.  To date more than 12,000 people have signed the petition on the 10 Downing St website to "reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy".

  20.  At 15.01.08 the petition had 12,597 signatures.

  21.  "Due to cost overruns the UK's funding agency for particle physics and astronomy, STFC, is recouping £80 million with deep cuts to UK physics operations in these areas. These include ending the UK's involvement in the International Linear Collider—the next generation of particle physics experiment. This risks relegating the UK to second tier involvement in future research and critically damaging the country's standing within the community. Furthermore UK Astronomy will be seriously hit with up to a 25% cut in grants. This is incompatible with the government's stated aim of making Britain a world leader in science. A review of this decision has recently been announced and we urge the Prime Minister to press for another solution to this problem before UK physics is set back by decades."

January 2008

33   Degrees of decline? Core science funding and mathematics degree courses in the UK 1998-2007: Back

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