For my first post on this Science and society blog, I thought I’d address the economy. I know, it’s a science blog but stick with me! The reason we, as scientists, have established Science Brainwaves is to communicate the science that you, the public, pay for. Your taxes are distributed to research councils that choose which projects to fund. This means scientists compete to get grants that pay for staff (including Ph.D students), bench fees and reagents.
Back in December, Alistair Darling swung an axe at UK science, cutting research budgets by £600m. This is just part of a slow but obvious demise in support for science since 2008, and more is to come with both major parties admitting that further cuts are inevitable after the election.
Science has been at the core of Britain’s success for over 400 years. We have lead the world in technology and become disproportionately wealthy as a result. Our universities are among the best in the world and the high-tech sector is about the only industry we have left. With strong investment, since 1997 we have attracted the best scientists to our shores but now universities are starting to feel the pinch of stretched budgets. Departments are closing down and scientists who can’t get money to fund their research are taking their labs abroad. At the same time, university applications are at record levels.
It will take many years for the government to realise the damage that this lack of investment is causing. With the best minds elsewhere, who is going to inspire the next generation of scientists? The UK, with it’s knowledge-based economy, needs great minds for the future. Our most valuable export is not a product of a factory but that of our universities. Countries like America and Singapore are increasing investment despite the recession, realising the value of science to their economy. Cutting investment now is like skimping on costs when laying the foundations for a new house – it will undermine everything you do in the future.