Wakeham out ! Read all abart it !

Check out the RCUK Review of Physics web site. The Wakeham report is out, as is RCUK’s response. My RAS spies tell me they will have a response out in the morning. So far I have only had time to read the Executive Summary … but the main points seem to be :

  • UK Physics is jolly healthy
  • Physics research is healthy, but has fallen behind other areas in funding
  • Physics education is declining because of funds and interest
  • Physics research has a significant economic impact
  • High Performance computing is very important
  • Universities should be more involved in facility management
  • A small body of independent wise people should help DIUS with the CSR allocation.
  • Astronomy and particle physics should stay inside STFC …
  • … but their funding should be clearly separated from other facilities

Rats. I seem to agree with all of that. Where’s the fun in that ?

17 Responses to Wakeham out ! Read all abart it !

  1. Iain Steele says:

    The other one we can all agree with is

    “More Scientists needed on STFC council”

  2. Michael Merrifield says:

    So I have to be the prophet of doom again…

    We move from the PPARC situation where astronomy funding was the core business of the research council that it had to fight hard for, and where any cut in a spending review would be very visible as a top-level item, to a situation where our funding is truly ghetto-ized as a relatively small hypothecated pot buried in a much larger organization where it is no longer the core business, thus allowing STFC and the government of the day to trumpet an increased overall allocation while we are quietly left to starve with no access to the money.

    So we retain all the disadvantages of being within STFC, while Keith’s only vaguely credible argument in favour — that astronomy might benefit on the coat-tails of other more-favoured big-budget items — has been removed.

  3. Steve W says:

    It really is high time you got one of these gravatar thingies. The smoke coming out of your ears will add the appropriate emphasis to your entertaining remarks. Your audience I’m sure is clamouring for it.

  4. Michael Merrifield says:

    Technologically beyond me, Steve, but if you could see my visage, you would see that it is pretty much passed the point of caring, so perhaps not too exciting an image. Sorry.

  5. andyxl says:

    Mike – you did at least pick on the bit I hummed and hahed over. There’s pros and cons re ringfencing. But at least its a sane argument.

    By the way, that P.Crowther is a whizz. I was quick off the mark because he tipped me off; but even better, I am typing this at 10:30pm on Oct 1st, but Paul already has the Oct 2nd news on his website !!

  6. Hywel says:

    If you want to make yourself angry, listen to the interview with Wakeham available at: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/review/physics/default.htm. Particularly the bit starting at 1:59… ‘Everybody in the community must take some responsibility for a very considerable worry in the international community about the state of British physics and its engagement with the international community. That means not just the Research Council but the individual researchers. And I think we need to rebuild that trust in the international community.’ So it’s YOUR fault for shouting about being cut, not Keith’s for doing the cutting. Hmmm, I should mention that to my 30 ex-colleagues who got made redundant yesterday…

  7. Watcher says:

    30 redundancies? where do you get that number from?

  8. Paul Crowther says:

    It was reassuring both that the review recommended broadening the membership of STFC Council to include additional non-exec scientists, and that RCUK accepted this.

    The review makes the case that astro (followed by pp) is our top ranked branch of physics internationally, but ducks the issue of whether DIUS should address the looming cuts to astro and pp grants, potentially impacting upon this leadership.

  9. Paul Crowther says:

    From page 7 of witness evidence to the Review (presumably) Prof Mason noted

    ..there had been a rapid increse in the number of university posts in astronomy (40%
    increases in 3 years) with no concomitant increase in the funding for research in
    this area.

    If “university posts” is intended here to refer to academics, this is pure fantasy as anyone within a Phys+Astro department will know, but sadly repeats earlier evidence from STFC’s CEO to the IUSS ctte and STFC forum at NAM.

    The figure is +4% from 2005 to 2007 according to STFC’s own studentship exercise statistics, or +15% from RAE submissions between 2001 and 2008 (Table 2 in main Report). The rolling total of astro responsive PDRAs went up by 21% from April 2005 to April 2008 according to STFC’s own figures.

  10. Tom Shanks says:

    Is it just me (and Mike?) who sees the Wakeham report as quite ominous for astronomy and particle physics? While recommendation 6 does seem to try to get ring-fencing for the PPARC grants and facilities, it still seems to be ambiguously worded in that the second sentence doesnt seem to follow completely from the first. And this allows RCUK to almost agree with the recommendation in the response, while ending up with a clear rejection of any ring fence for PPARC – which I take as very negative.

    Then Points 2 and 3 seems almost wholly aimed at moving us towards applied physics. Point 4 doesnt even mention anything about the uses of fundamental physics in attracting students.
    Point 10 talks about masters in physics and finance (sic transit…!) Point 11 wants interaction between academics and industry. Point 16 talks about other careers for PDRAs. And where in the recommendations and conclusions, at least, is there any paean praise for fundamental physics? Bad news!

  11. STFC fan - not STFC fan says:

    Tom, it was ominous about 6 months ago when our Bill asked a room (actually a planetarium, rather ironically) full of particle physicists and astronomers “are there too many astronomers ?”.

  12. Timeload says:

    This ringfence thing worries me. Hasn’t anyone twigged that a closed fence also makes a very good prison? Listen carefully to Bill Wakeham’s podcast!! Since the pressure for more directed research seems to be coming from government, why will they not just tighten the noose ever more tightly with the PPARC sciences trapped inside? Given the range of subjects they have to cover, I don’t see this advisory group to DIUS having many astronomers or particle physicists on it to speak up for us!

  13. andyxl says:

    When PPARC was created, split off from the rest of physical science in the old SERC, we had the same worries – being put in a ghetto would enable government to squeeze us. At first we did decline, but it was probably going to happen anyway in the Thatcher era. Later, the ability to make a clear case for astro and pp seemed to be beneficial. We won out with clearly argued major bids, like e-Science and ESO. So if we do get ringfenced, it needs to be couple with clear advocacy

    Now somtething that puzzles me, having looked at the rest of the report … although the ring fencing idea is in the excecutive summary, it is not in the recommendations… I also heard from a senior figure today that RCUK don’t like the ring fencing idea anyway, so it ain’t going to happen.

  14. Michael Merrifield says:

    Ah, but there is a fundamental difference, Andy. With PPARC, astronomy was its top-level core business, so in any spending review it put its full weight behind pushing for more support for the subject, and any cuts in funding were very visible as a cut in a research council budget. Now as a small ring-fenced pot in a large body, we are no longer the priority of the organization, and any cuts to our funding will be essentially invisible.

    Apropos of your second comment, check out the RCUK response (http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/cmsweb/downloads/rcuk/reviews/physics/response.pdf Section 3.6.1), which is essentially dismissive of this ringfencing, stating that research council already have to describe how their funding will be distributed in the CSR process, and arguing that Research Councils need to “tension their expenditure across the whole range of their activities.”

  15. Jon B says:

    I think its a shame they didn’t make any helpful recommendations on currency/GDP fluctuations. Since GDP and currency conversion are somehow anti-correlated, I would have thought some treasury whiz (or unemployed investment banker) could come up with a mechanism to make things more stable year on year. Oh well. Mostly its positive or fairly harmless as far as I can see (but also it certainly isn’t a rescue package).

  16. Kav says:

    A little off-topic, but somewhat relevant, it appears that Ian Pearson has left DIUS and has been replaced by Lord Paul Drayson PhD.

    I wonder how this will shade future developments?

  17. Michael Merrifield says:

    Let’s hope he is more in Sainsbury’s mould than Pearson’s…

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