Whilst many toasted the Spending Review as a sign that government finally realised science as “vital”, other members of the academy stared quite gloomily at what seemed like a very bleak future. At first, it seemed as if looking glum was all anyone was going to do. They might sit and deconstruct the perimeters of what is meant by a notion of “fairness” if they so wished, but the recommendations of the Browne Review seemed, in this current climate, inevitable. It was as if they either didn’t believe the implications, or had given in to it.
There was the NUS/ UCU demonstration. Its date, the 11th of November, looked pretty on placards (10/11/10) but it seemed rather late in comparison to Science is Vital, which had put together an impressive petition, lobby all before the Spending Review. It’s probably worth noting that it wasn’t just the remarkable organisation of Science Is Vital that made their campaign so successful; they were building on networks that run back to the 1980s, even earlier. The Campaign for Science and Engineering, which underpinned much of the Science is Vital action, was founded, as Save British Science back in 1986. Also, in the 25 years since the “Bodmer report” on the public understanding of science, a whole industry for science communication has developed and, though it badly needs to be better, a growing cultural acceptance for engagement within the scientific community. There’s a myth that science has it hard when it comes to public engagement. Science still has huge challenges in this area, but academic humanities and social sciences can be equally abstract, if not more so and just doesn’t have the industry to help it communicate with the public which the natural sciences do.
The 11th November demo came and went, but with “student violence” dominating the public discourse on the topic. HEPI published a “devastating” critique, and Stephan Collini wrote a thoughtful piece in the London Review of Books. Still, there was little action and little debate.