Science and the budget: challenges remain
- 19 March 2015
Yesterday, George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, announced his final Budget before the election.
We welcome the Chancellor’s continued focus on the potential of science to deliver growth, rewarding employment and wellbeing advantages for the UK, however significant challenges remain if these are to be achieved.
The Government continues to focus on capital and infrastructure investment and we welcome announcements relating to initiatives including: approximately £12m for the new Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Sustainability Metrics at Harpenden, to be run by a consortium of business and academia as part of its Agri-Tech Strategy; £20m for a Health North programme to examine treatment effectiveness; and £14m over two years for an Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) in Sheffield, to design, develop and implement physical activity interventions and products to improve wellbeing.
In addition the Government will reinvest up to £30m from the sale of Medical Research Council assets to support research at the Francis Crick Institute, with matched funding from Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust. All of this is welcome.
We are pleased to see the growing awareness of the need for postgraduate support. The Government has recognised that demand for individuals with doctorates is outstripping supply, both in the UK and internationally. The so-called ‘postgraduate premium’ earned by Masters and particularly PhDs in terms of wages has increased. In this budget the Government introduced allocations of £25k of means-tested grant support and promised a consultation on postgraduate research and training provision.
Increasing knowledge and skills transfer through the funding of collaborations spanning institutes, academia and industry will bring benefits and should fuel innovation. The focus on how to encourage innovation through regulatory as well as investment decisions is timely.
However alongside these moves to fuel innovation there remains an increasing need for enhanced resource funding so that investment in infrastructure can truly succeed. The ongoing ‘flat-cash’ trajectory of the science settlement is eroding capacity and this remains a vital focus for future investment decisions.
Public investment in science has delivered excellent returns to the economy and society by maintaining the UK's strength and attractiveness to inward investment. Because of the long term nature of science, some of the results of past investments are only coming to fruition now. It would be dangerous to believe that we can continue to do well on little investment.
With other leading economies investing higher proportions of their GDP in research and development, the UK must act to maintain its attractiveness and achieve its potential.
Find out more about Science and the General Election.