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Funding freeze is hitting hard, say UK researchers

UK researchers are already feeling the pinch from their country’s flatlining science spending, according to a new report.

Ahead of a much anticipated funding announcement later this month, the group Science Is Vital, which campaigns for increased spending on science, has collected the opinions of 868 researchers on the impact of the government’s decision in 2010 to keep the core science budget funded at a ‘flat cash’ level. This has in effect meant cuts, as inflation reduces the amount of science that can be bought with the same spending every year.

Researchers reported that, despite funding bodies having dealt with flat cash for only three years, they were already seeing fewer grants awarded, smaller grants awarded and difficulties in recruiting staff and PhD students.

“We were quite frankly surprised by just how much scientists are struggling to cope in the current climate of managed decline in funding. In only three years, significant damage has already been done, and further lack of support will only make things worse,” said Jennifer Rohn, a biologist at University College London and founder of Science is Vital, which is calling for an increase in the science budget.

The survey was an online poll, so should not necessarily be regarded as representative of the UK scientific community. It does chime with many anecdotal reports though, with most of the respondents saying that it has got harder to get grants: 52% believe they have had a lower success rate with applications since 2010, 31% say their hit rate has been the same and only 5% saying they have improved. Even successful applications suffered cuts, mainly to staff and equipment.

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