Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced a big cash injection for U.K. science this week. Universities and research institutes will be able to bid for a share of £1 billion earmarked to update equipment and laboratories and for new buildings. And the postgraduate research students using the new facilities will also be better off--the minimum research council stipend is set to rise to £9000 by 2003.
The announcement came at a joint U.K./U.S. conference in London, and the move is thought to reflect concern over the number of highly trained scientists leaving Britain or leaving the lab. According to Brown, "Postgraduate researchers are the lifeblood of our science base." And in recent years there has also been growing concern in the scientific community that the best undergraduates are being put off continuing into Ph.D. study because of mounting undergraduate debts and the low level of stipends. The current basic research council stipend is £6620.
An increase in the student stipend to £9000 was recommended by the U.K. Life Sciences Committee (UKLSC) in January this year--and that is precisely what is set to happen, eventually. Research Council stipends will rise to £6800 in the coming academic year, to £7500 for the academic year commencing 2001, and will finally reach £9000 in 2003-04. Meanwhile, the £1 billion investment in infrastructure, comprising £775 million from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Higher Education Funding Council for England and £225 million from the Wellcome Trust, will be available in funding rounds in 2002-03 and 2003-04. The new scheme, the Science Research Investment Fund, will take over from the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF), the £750 million funding stream that allocates its last resources in 2000-01.
Professor Martin Raff, chairman of the UKLSC, was delighted by Brown's announcement. "It's great news and it's about time," he told Next Wave. "This is a good start and very encouraging," he said, but warned that improvements to the career structure for young scientists were also needed. "It's particularly gratifying that the government has acknowledged that the brain drain has to be addressed," adds Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science. But Cotgreave also cautions that, if the chancellor wants to maximise the impact of this new investment, he also needs to pay attention to the other side of the dual support system, which funds academic pay. He is looking for cash to boost lecturers' salaries when the full spending review announcement is made in a couple of weeks time.