(Press release, 12 March 2015)

UK investment in science has dropped below 0.5% of GDP, new analysis reveals

A new analysis by campaign group Science is Vital has found that UK investment in publicly funded research dropped to less than 0.5% of GDP in 2012. Not only does the decline in investment put us at the bottom of the G8 group of countries, but it’s less than any G8 country has invested in R&D in the last 20 years.

This is the result of the steady decline in the real value of the UK science budget since the coalition government’s imposition of a flat-cash settlement in 2010, cuts in capital expenditure, and significant reductions in departmental spending on research. Although Science is Vital welcomed the recent announcement of a commitment to a capital budget that will invest nearly £6 billion new facilities and equipment from 2016–21, this does not reverse the decline in investment overall. The organisation is also concerned that this new investment has not been matched by a clear commitment to reverse the decline of the budgets that provide the running costs for UK research.

Science is Vital is today launching a campaign to coincide with British Science Week. ‘Tell Them Science is Vital’ asks supporters of science to contact their local MP and parliamentary candidates to let them know how important science is to them and their community (bit.ly/tellthemSiV).

Science is Vital are calling for the Government to support science funding and to set a clear target to increase total public expenditure on R&D from its current level of less than 0.5% of GDP to at least 0.8%, the average spend across the G8 nations. This call was echoed in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph they organized in 2013 which urged the Government to commit to long-term funding of science and engineering, signed by 50 of Britain’s best-known and most distinguished scientists including Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Brian Cox and Paul Nurse. This commitment should be a central feature in an overall strategy to boost growth and enable the UK to meet the social and technological challenges of the 21st Century.

Dr Jennifer Rohn, researcher at University College London and Chair of Science is Vital said, “I was relieved in 2010 when the Science is Vital campaign helped to stave off deep cuts in the UK research budget. But I was shocked to learn that the flat-cash settlement has diminished investment to below 0.5% of GDP and that the UK is trailing yet further behind its international competitors.”

Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology at Imperial College and Vice-Chair of Science is Vital, said, “The UK research base has a world-class reputation but it has been allowed to decline through the years of austerity. We urgently need to re-invest to maintain the quality of the research and training done in the UK, and to be able to face the future with confidence and purpose.”

Dr Andrew Steele, researcher at Cancer Research UK, Vice-Chair of Science is Vital and founder of Scienceogram, who performed the analysis, said “Our spending on science is dwarfed by the size of the problems that science is trying to solve. We need to ask our representatives to increase our investment in research to the level of other leading economies, to boost the recovery and reap the benefits of research for our health and happiness.”

The campaign expects to be able to gather further support to strengthen the message sent out in 2010: science is vital for the economic health of the UK, enabling the country to meet the technological and social challenges it will face in the coming years. Science is Vital believes that this can only be secured by a clear Government commitment to long-term support, and welcomes wider public debate on this issue.

Notes to editors

  1. Science is Vital (scienceisvital.org.uk@ScienceIsVital) is a volunteer-run, non-partisan organisation aiming to harness the views of the scientific community to promote the value of science and the interests of scientists to policymakers.
  2. Science is Vital was set up in September 2010 after a call to action from Dr Jennifer Rohn on her blog. The group’s petition attracted over 35,000 signatures by the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October 2010. The campaign to protect science spending culminated in a lobby of Parliament and a demonstration by several thousand researchers and supporters of science outside the Treasury in the run up to the spending review announcement.
  3. British Science Week (@scienceweekuk) is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths organized by the British Science Association, with events and activities across the UK for people of all ages. British Science Week 2015 takes place 13th–22nd March.
  4. For more information see scienceisvital.org.uk or contact Science is Vital Chair, Dr Jennifer Rohn, at jenny@scienceisvital.org.uk / +44 7984 217748 / @jennyrohn
  5. Analysis by Scienceogram (scienceogram.org@scienceogram) using data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. For full details, see scienceogram.org/blog/2015/03/uk-science-bottom-gdp-g8 or contact Science is Vital Vice-Chair Dr Andrew Steele, statto@andrewsteele.co.uk/ +44 7763 942 262 / @statto
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