Update at 4.30pm: Both The Guardian and The Times have been running reports this afternoon about an email from the head of Universities UK, Steve Smith, to the heads of higher eductaion institutions which has been leaked to the BBC. They are reporting that the email warns of a £3bn cut in university teaching budgets and a £1bn cut in the research budget.
This morning The Times has published a letter letter signed by almost 80 of AMRC’s member charities. Mark Henderson has also written an accompanying article (paywall) looking in more depth at the issues of concern for research charites. These include cuts in funding and the proposed cap on non-EU migrants. The text of the letter is as follows:
Sir, Our work benefits millions of patients across the UK. Last year alone the 124 members of the Association of Medical Research Charities funded more than £1 billion of medical and health research. As a proportion of public expenditure that is more than any other country. This contribution is driven by the combined efforts of volunteers, supporters, donors, clinicians, scientists and patients themselves. If ever there was an example of the “Big Society” in action this is it.
Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) we have asked the coalition Government to sustain science funding and ensure an environment that allows charities to fund research on behalf of patients. Failure to do so will lead to the UK losing its position as an international leader in science. Additional unacceptable strictures on research, such as the proposed cap on non-EU migrants, can only fuel concerns that our future scientists will be expected to work with one hand tied behind their backs.
Ministers are mistaken if they believe that charities are a substitute for Government expenditure. One of the great strengths of UK science is the synergy that exists between public, charitable and industry sources of funding. Only last week we saw evidence of what this collaboration can mean with the bowel-screening announcement heralded at the Conservative Party conference. It is such progress and the opportunity to improve health and wellbeing that has enabled us to build public support for research, support that leverages funding from other sources for the common good.
We recognise the very difficult decisions facing George Osborne. But in these final days before the CSR announcement he may wish to reflect on the comment by the American health activist Mary Lasker: “If you think research is expensive, try disease.”
You know, I can always tell the strength of feeling among our members by the speed with which they respond to my emails. Given that they only had 36 hours to respond to my request that they sign our letter, the fact that so many did is indicative of their growing apprehension. And more asked to do so after the deadline was passed.
As I reflect on matters at this late (or early) hour it is quite simple. Either the Government wants the UK to play for the first team of international science. Or it is content for it to be a substitute, playing for ten minutes or so with the occasional moment of glory. The problem is the unused substitute can soon lose form and confidence. Before we know it, they find themselves playing in the reserves or even moving down through the leagues to find a game. But whether that happens or not is in the manager’s hands.