Austerity cuts put Britain's science base at risk
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's aggressive budget cuts could mothball scientific research facilities, damage investor confidence and trigger a brain drain of its top talent, an independent advocacy group said.
Britain spends 3.5 billion pounds a year on science but that could be cut by up to 25 percent as part of the government's drive to eliminate a record budget deficit.
Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said reduced funding would encourage scientists and companies to relocate to more science-focussed countries.
"The UK has a hard-won reputation as a global hub for research. But that reputation could be easily lost," said Khan, whose group is financed by universities and firms including Airbus (EAD.PA) and Pfizer (PFE.N).
"That will change the way in which the UK is viewed by these multinational companies -- companies which are internationally mobile...That could lead towards going from being a world class nation in science and engineering to becoming second rate."
Britain will announce details of its spending review in October and it remains unclear where the axe will fall.
Science underpins a large chunk of Britain's economy, with more than 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) coming from sectors based on science and engineering. Companies invest some 16 billion pounds a year in research and development.
In an open letter published in June, major companies including GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) and Syngenta AG (SYNN.VX), the world's largest agro-chemicals company, urged the government to map out a clearer strategy to avoid damaging the sector.
"Our companies are careful about where they invest. We value the scientific and engineering talent that flows from the UK's world-class universities and publicly funded research base, and how the tax regime supports research and development investment," they said in the letter.
"The government needs a clear, strong and long-term strategy for making the UK the most attractive country for companies to conduct research and development."
The Science and Technology Facilities Council, which allocates public spending in science, said it could not comment on the nature of the cuts before the review is completed.
In a speech in April before he became prime minister, David Cameron said Britain needed to invest more in its science base to revitalise the stalling manufacturing industry. Yet he also says the cuts are necessary and the private sector would step in to boost the economy once they are implemented.
Khan disagreed, saying the cuts could jeopardise a number of research facilities such as the Diamond particle accelerator as well as Britain's participation in Europe's ambitious CERN project investigating the origins of the cosmos.
He said a lack of incentives at home would encourage scientists and engineers to seek employment in other more science-focussed regions and set off a wave of brain drain.
"You will see some of the UK's most talented scientists and engineers going abroad," he said. "You could see major projects and facilities being closed."
Cameron's tough line on immigration could also impact a sector where one in 10 academic appointments and many technology research companies are from outside the European Union.
"A lot of the big chemical engineering firms these days are based outside the EU," Khan said. "If we are looking for them to invest in the UK they are not going to do so unless they can bring some of their staff here to kick start projects."
(Editing by Noah Barkin)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this