October 8, 2010
Dear MP for Edinburgh West, #ScienceIsVital for Scotland and the UK!
Dear Mr Crockart,
my name is Dr Maria Wolters, I live in XXXX and am one of your constituents. As a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, I am deeply worried about the impact that the proposed budget cuts will have on UK science, and Scottish science in particular.
Scotland has always taken great pride in its intellectual heritage, and there are many initiatives to capitalise on the unique density of excellent universities and translate the world-class research they produce into products, jobs, and economic growth.
However, the innovation pipeline needs to be fed by basic research. If funding for this is cut off at the source, at a time when other nations such as Germany and the US invest heavily in research, the stream of transferable results will dry up, and the long-term economic consequences for Scotland and the UK will be dire.
Edinburgh itself will be particularly badly hit. Although its four universities attract many academics and research students and have a great track record of successful spin-off companies, institutions such as Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University are already tightening their belts and laying off vital research and teaching staff.
Even without the shadow of potentially severe cuts, the current situation is critical. It is extremely difficult to get funding from the UK Research Councils. Research only has a chance if it is uniformly rated as outstanding or excellent, and even then, funding is by no means assured.
Partnering with industry is not a cure-all. Basic research has a time to market of 5-30 years. This is far too long a time frame for even the largest companies, most of whom are under great pressure to deliver consistent returns to their shareholders. Yet, without the groundwork of basic, blue-skies research, there will be no technology to transfer, no innovations to monetise. It is government who needs to provide funds for seeding the next vital breakthroughs.
The University of Edinburgh is the highest-ranked University in Scotland according to the recent Times Higher Education Ranking. I am proud to be part of the internationally acclaimed School of Informatics, the highest ranked UK department of Computer Science in the 2008 RAE. We have a thriving commercialisation arm, Informatics Ventures. You probably only know too well yourself how crucial computer science and IT are to the whole economy. All this activity and research excellence is sustained on a tight budget, with careful administration of the available resources. There is no room for further manoevring.
Research groups and academic departments depend on a steady stream of research income to attract the best group leaders and researchers. Groups that have taken decades to build can be destroyed and dispersed by a dry spell of a couple of years. Researchers will follow the money, which means that the UK and in particular Scotland will lose out. Permanently. So, funding cuts not only jeopardise the health of the economy for years to come, they will also waste the substantial investment in people and knowledge that has already been made. To make matters worse, world-class universities like the University of Glasgow urgently need research funding to survive. You may remember the recent massive front page headline in the Herald – the urgency of the situation was a real wake-up call. Fortunately, the University of Edinburgh is not in a similar situation – yet. With further cuts, it may well be.
The Science is Vital [http://scienceisvital.org.uk/] coalition, along with the Campaign for Science and Engineering [http://www.sciencecampaign.org.uk], are calling upon the Government to set out a supportive strategy, including public investment goals above or at least in step with economic growth. Without such investment and commitment the UK risks its international reputation, its market share of high-tech manufacturing and services, the ability to respond to urgent and long-term national scientific challenges, and the economic recovery. Science Is Vital is supported by many Fellows of the Royal Society as well as charities such as Cancer Research UK.
Please support your constituents, your city, and the Scottish and UK economy by
– signing EDM 767 – Science is Vital (http://bit.ly/edm767)
– signing the Science is Vital petition – (http://scienceisvital.org.uk/sign-the-petition – I have already signed myself)
– attending a lobby in Parliament on 12 October (15.30, Committee Room 10). I won’t be at the lobby myself, but many others will.
I look forward to hearing from you.