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Ministers unveil £6bn science strategy
From the Financial Times of Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:06:34 GMT

A commitment to spend £6bn building and updating research facilities over the next five years is at the heart of the government’s long-term science strategy announced on Wednesday.

While £3bn will fund individual projects and institutions through existing research councils, £2.9bn is earmarked for bigger “Grand Challenge” projects.

Significant beneficiaries already announced include the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the Polar Research Ship, the Sir Henry Royce Institute for advanced materials in Manchester and a centre for ageing research in Newcastle.

“Today’s announcement shows our determination to ensure UK science remains at the very forefront of global research,” said Greg Clark, science minister. “This support to our scientific infrastructure means we will equal the best in the world.”

Martyn Poliakoff, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: “It is to be welcomed that this commitment has been applied to investing not only in the large flagship projects but also to ensuring ongoing support for existing research projects and facilities.”

The only commitment not announced previously was a contribution of £30m from the UK to the Hamburg-based European XFEL, an international project that will use X-rays to map the structures of viruses down to an atomic level when it starts work in 2018.

Mr Clark said XFEL membership would “open areas of research for British scientists . . . that are currently inaccessible.”

Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, felt the strategy failed to address key questions.

“I was hoping for a visionary 10 year strategy with the authority and support of all government,” she said. “This strategy is reassuring but falls short on a number of specific commitments, such as a commitment to ringfence the science budget.”

Professor Dominic Tildesley, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, also warned that more needed to be done “to reverse the decades-long decline in UK science funding. The UK is below leading knowledge-based countries in the proportion of our GDP [gross domestic product] that we spend on R&D [research and development],” he said.

The Commons business, innovation and skills committee called this month on the government to commit to a target of 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on research and development by 2020 — a target not included in today’s plan.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, criticised the government for failing to follow the committee’s recommendation. “We are behind our competitor countries at present and risk falling further behind,” she said. “We back MPs’ calls for 3 per cent of GDP to go on R&D by 2020.”

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