Put your tin hat on …

September 13, 2010

… its going to get a bit rough. Everybody is getting twitchy as the spending review approaches. The trade unions are polishing their breastplates and preparing the battle plan. Special pleaders are lining up – not just us bossy science types, but for example our Arts colleagues – defend the arts ! On the radio this morning I think I heard the military getting their US chums to say that defence cuts would damage the special relationship. And so on and so forth. Meanwhile the banks claim they are protecting the future by agreeing a “radical” new limit on capital-to-lending despite the fact that most banks are already safely inside that limit, and bonus culture is still rampant.

I can’t be doing with all this worrying about spending cuts. I have eight million students to interview this week. Mind you it is a bit depressing, especially the recent Vince Cable “45% of UK science is rubbish” fiasco. (Follow the links at Peter Coles’ excellent article and comment stream)

If we understand what Cable really meant – take QR away from the weakest departments – its contentious but not staggering. Yes we have the usual “shock horror half results below average” rubbish, but we all knew three years ago that such a QR shift was threatened, and it implies a cut of only a few percent. What really got the science world up in arms however was the fact that he mistakenly referred to “grants”. Research grants demonstrably go ONLY to excellent research.  The impression Cable left was very badly wrong. I can’t believe he doesn’t know this. It may be almost however in the current climate for him to make anything approaching a correction or apology.

Where I part from Peter is over his insistence that government should fund what can’t be funded elsewhere, i.e. only proper science,  not commercially relevant research, leaving that to investors etc.  I get the point of course, but that way we end up in a few years with EPSRC+AHRC having the same budget as AHRC.