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Scientists see funding slashed in Spanish budget

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

Research has been hit hard by Spain’s austerity budget. The Spanish government has cut funding for research and development (R&D) by one-fourth in its draft budget for 2012, which was presented to Parliament yesterday. This cut “brings the funding back to 2005 levels, once inflation is taken into account”, according to Carlos Andradas, president of the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE).

According to COSCE’s analysis, the overall funding for research will fall from €8.5 billion (US$11.1 billion) last year to €6.4 billion in 2012 — a 25.5% reduction applied to both military and civil research.

“The decrease in science investment is worse than expected,” says Andradas. Last month, the minster responsible for research, Carmen Vela, announced a €743-million cut, but in the actual proposal this was almost tripled to more than €2 billion. “Moreover, it is larger than the average cut of 16% applied to other ministries,” Andradas adds.

Direct funding from the ministry to public research organizations will fall by 4.7%, according to the government’s data. However, whereas the National Research Council got off lightly, with a 2.5% cut, the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute will receive 30% less. Moreover, the Severo Ochoa programme, which gives an extra funding to excellent institutions, will award five centres this year instead of ten as originally planned, said Vela in a press conference this morning.

She also announced that the contribution to international research organizations, including the European Space Agency, the CERN high-energy physics laboratory in Switzerland and the ITER nuclear fusion project in France will be renegotiated. The Centre for Technological and Industrial Development, which represents Spain at the European Space Agency, will be cut by 54%.

The public-sector hiring freeze will extend to science, despite a campaign by the country’s main scientific organizations. However, Vela announced this morning that she is trying to negotiate an exception for public research organizations. The number of places offered in the Ramon y Cajal and Juan de la Cierva programmes (similar to tenure track) will be almost halved, from 600 last year to 340 in 2012.

But the amount of money available for R&D may still change. Parliament can still amend the budget bill, and more than half of the overall amount comes in the form of tax credits for companies to promote tech transfer. Last year, almost half of those credits went unused.

“This policy does not correspond to the idea that R&D is a strategic priority to overcome the economic crisis,” says Andradas, adding that COSCE will be lobbying to get a better deal for science during the parliamentary debate.


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