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December 20, 2010

Knowledge transfer wins, capital budgets hit in science budget allocations

The government today announced detailed spending plans for the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the seven UK Research Councils for the period 2011-12 to 2014-15.

The plans were unveiled by universities and science minister David Willetts at a briefing in London this morning. As expected, they amount to a 12 per cent budget cut in cash terms over four years.

Almost all of the seven research councils have announced capital spending budgets cuts as much as 50 per cent. The plans also indicate a stronger focus towards funding research that meets UK strategic policy priorities and a move towards yet more concentration.

However, there are rewards for researchers working in knowledge transfer. The Medical Research Council will be able to keep its patent income and there is also protection for the popular Higher Education Innovation Fund. The Science and Technology Facilities Council meanwhile has been able protect its budget for international activities from currency fluctuations.

The STFC’s budget has been split into three streams for the spending review period, meaning that in future its “grants” pot will no longer need to be raided to meet currency-related shortfalls in its international subscriptions.

The Natural Environment Research Council will place less emphasis on participation in international scientific projects, instead devoting much more space to spelling out how the research council will meet national objectives, such as building competitive advantage for the UK.

The Economic and Social Research Council said that it would deal with the cut by scrapping a small grants scheme and concentrating grant support on large projects costing more than £200,000.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is concentrating its resources on four main themes—manufacturing, energy, the digital economy and healthcare technologies.

The MRC is the only one of the UK’s seven research councils to receive an increase in funding, which when taking into account inflation should result in a real-terms freeze over the next four years.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council is to address its funding reduction by channelling more money than ever before into cross-council priorities, critical mass within universities and the pursuit of ‘impact’.

Meanwhile, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has confirmed plans to cut its own administration costs by 25 per cent. This will partly be achieved through attempts to reduce demand for grants by capping the number of applications allowed from institutions or departments that “fall consistently below an appropriately modelled percentile,” says the delivery plan. The council says it will seek a reduction in applications of at least 10 per cent.

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