Noted physicist Professor Brian Cox has warned that future science funding needs to be focused around what we want to achieve in 10 or 20 years time.
The English scientist, author and TV personality told a group of UK government officials reviewing the country’s science spending that there has to be consideration of what outputs there will be as well as the monetary input that’s made.
Speaking to the Science and Technology Committee, Cox said that current “excellent” scientific results have all come from a previous commitment to science funding.
“We’re reaping the rewards of decisions that were made decades ago,” he told the committee.
“If you’re focusing on outputs, the correct question has to be: ‘What do we invest in now in order to make sure those outputs at least stay constant and world-leading, but also, which become more valuable as time goes on?’. We’re looking at 10 or 20 year timescales.”
Cox backed this up by saying the success of the large Hadron Collider and “big space missions” are because of the decisions that were made during the 1980s.
Since 2010 the UK’s science budget has been ring-fenced as a separate budget within the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) department.
But the government’s current spending review is due to set new budgets, including the one for science, for the next two years.
As such, the committee is looking at where and how science should be funded and to what extent changes will impact upon the work undertaken by the county’s universities and researchers.
In the last spending review in 2013, government officials announced that the science community in the UK would continue to receive a ‘flat-cash’ spending until the current spending review.
Cox said that a similar fixed funding approach would be detrimental to the UK’s scientific research and could result in the country becoming a “second-class scientific nation”.
“If there’s a flat-cash settlement then realistically it’s dire, I think. That’s not my opinion, it seems to be the opinion, unanimously, of the research councils. So I would be extremely pessimistic if that is what happened,” he said.
“I spend a lot of time going to schools and talking to students and telling them that STEM, putting their energies into STEM, is the way that they can secure a better future and have a very enjoyable time at the moment.
“That’s true at the moment but it won’t be true if we become a second-class scientific nation. Where will those jobs be?”
The Science and Technology Committee is continuing to take evidence on the future of science funding and will report later this year.