6 May 2008

Institute of Physics responds to the publication of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Report into Science Budget Allocations

The House of Commons’ Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee has today (Wednesday, 30 April) published a report on its investigation into Science Budget Allocations and, in particular, the financial crisis that has engulfed the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) since their budget for 2008-11 was announced in November 2007.

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics (IOP), took part in the first select committee hearing, along with representatives from the Royal Astronomical Society and the trade union Prospect on 21 January 2008.

In response to the report, he said, “The Committee has done a good job of understanding a very complicated series of events. Our top priority throughout this enquiry has been to ensure that no irrevocable cuts should be made to the physics base before the Wakeham review reports in September. I am very pleased that the Committee has supported this call for a moratorium. It is now up to DIUS to clarify whether the Wakeham Review will address the issues affecting STFC, and for DIUS and STFC to agree arrangements which will allow substantive changes to be delayed. I urge them to accept the Committee’s recommendations in this area, and to agree a way forward on that basis.

“I believe the Committee is right to identify poor communication, and lack of consultation, as key factors which have contributed to the community’s concerns. For our members, decisions which radically affect their research programmes – and indeed their jobs – were announced with little prior warning or discussion. However, we recognise that STFC has already accepted that this is a problem which must be addressed, and is introducing a more consultative approach. We welcome and support this initiative.

“However, there is one significant omission in the report - safeguarding fundamental physics research against international currency fluctuations. At present the funds available to support researchers are exposed to short-term international currency fluctuations. This has compounded the funding issues for STFC because a significant proportion of their money is tied up in international partnerships.

“The important thing now is for DIUS and STFC to regain the confidence of the physics community, by learning from recent mistakes and making their future intentions clear. Only with real honesty about events since the formation of STFC and more considered methods for consultation in the future, will we be able to reconstruct prosperous working relations.”

Institute of Physics

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