Wakeham out ! Read all abart it !

October 1, 2008

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 ?


How to fix Physics

February 5, 2008

SUPA supremo Ian Halliday was recently SUPA CEO Ian Halliday in Strathclydeasked by high-ups in the Scottish Executive “what should we tell DIUS and STFC about how to protect Physics funding in HEIs and the UKATC ?” Ian asked Team SUPA to chip in our bits. Well, I fed him exactly what I would have said to anybody, so here it is :

HOW TO PROTECT HEI PHYSICS FUNDING

  • Short term : a large part of the current crisis stems from STFC inheriting underprovisioning by CCLRC, causing an unexpected step change in problems for particular segments of physics. There is therefore a strong case for targeted assistance from DIUS. This should be primarily for protecting grants income rather than changing STFC policy decisions, and should be aimed at smoothing out problems. The chaos comes from d£/dt.
  • Empower the Physics HEI community. We are problem solvers and can do a good job if trusted. First and foremost this means improve engagement with the HEI community – not “consultation” but “engagement”
  • Restructure so that delivery is separated from policy and funding. STFC has a massive conflict of interest, as did CCLRC before it. Scotland can easily do its part here via the ATC and EPCC; the elephant in the room is the power and influence of RAL. (Apologies to my RAL chums – this is a political statement, not a technical one)
  • Make the case for economic impact of Physics, including fundamental physics. This is partly on (long term) technology return, but mostly is about skills; training of people at all levels, and attraction of young people into science.

HOW TO PROTECT ATC FUNDING

  • Restore some key parts of programme, and allow ATC to diversify.
  • Allow ATC to pursue external contracts in order to stabilise its income stream. Decide who holds the operating risk.
  • Separate and protect the historic and cultural aspects of the Royal Observatory; these are properly a Scottish affair, whereas the ATC science programme is UK.
  • Engage politically to help establish ATC as a European (not just UK) centre, with aim of stability and international subscription return.
  • Help establish ATC as part of a Scottish Knowledge Exchange agenda.

DIUS on a sticky wicket

January 16, 2008

During the whole STFC-cuts-crisis thingy, a controversial issue has been the question of who knew when just how bad this would be. Was it just an STFC cock-up, or did the Minister know it would be bad, and still not give them enough money ? Through a combination of logic and gossip, I think most of us pretty much knew the answer. My take on this was set out in this wee playlet on December 14th. But now we have proof, cos a bunch of intrepid particle physicists got all the right documents out of STFC using the Freedom of Information Act. The key documents are loaded up here. They show clearly that STFC warned DIUS pretty clearly several times. This doesn’t mean the Minister(s) knew of course. They would have been relying on their officials.

Excellent work by our particle physics chums, followed up swiftly by a piece on the Today programme this morning at 0845. (For those who didn’t catch the Today programme this morning, you can listen again here.) D:reamy Brian Cox tried to explain the difference between Resource, Near Cash and Non Cash to Sarah Montague. Quantum Field Theory might have been easier.

Brian is available for weddings and barmitzvahs.