Astronomy hit by cuts

The Royal Astronomical Society president Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson has warned UK astronomy research is to face large cuts


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) president Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson has warned UK astronomy research is to face large cuts.



‘I have it from a very reliable source that we are looking at a 25 per cent cut in grants over the next three years, plus programme cuts that could even result in some existing research grants being cancelled,’ said Rowan-Robinson. ‘Both of these are truly awful for universities.’



The cuts are a result of an unfavorable settlement with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which was formed earlier this year to direct, coordinate and fund research in the UK. The council receives funding from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), which it allocates to research institutions and programmes particularly in the fields of astronomy, particle physics, space science and nuclear physics.



The STFC has received an over inflation rise in funding, but increased costs due to the running costs of new facilities such as the Diamond Light Source, have meant a seven per cent cut in the funding for research, leaving the council around £80m short of the maintaining the current level of funding.



‘Of the 41 UK Physics departments in universities, 34 have some astronomy funding, and for 11, more than 40 per cent of their research funding comes from astronomy,’ added Rowan-Robinson. ‘Astronomy has been recognised by the government as a means of attracting young people to science and engineering – cuts of this type send out the wrong message to prospective students.



‘STFC have not handled this process well, with no briefing or consultation of the community during the decision making process. The current structure, in which a handful of scientists sit on internal STFC committees, but are not allowed to consult the wider scientific community, is just not acceptable.



‘The secretary of state at the DIUS, John Denham, should reconsider this whole allocation. It is completely inappropriate that the costs of facilities designed for the wider science community from materials science to medical research should fall on the astronomy and particle physics grants lines.’



The cuts in funding have already resulted in the UK withdrawing from the Gemini Observatory, a major international facility where £35m has already been spent.