IOP welcomes funding for science programmes but calls for long-term investment

22 December 2014

The IOP has welcomed the government’s commitment to a £200m institute for materials research, a leading role for the UK in the ExoMars programme and new access to loans for master’s students, but underlined the need for more long-term investment.

IOP welcomes funding for science programmes

The concept of a new materials research institute in the north of England was discussed by the chancellor, George Osborne, in a speech in June, when it was dubbed the “Crick of the North” in reference to the new medical research centre, the Francis Crick Institute, in London.

In his autumn statement on 3 December, Osborne confirmed that the institute, to be known as the Sir Henry Royce Institute, would be built and announced that it would be located in Manchester, with regional hubs in several northern cities. Funding for the centre will come out of the £1.1 bn annual capital spending pledged by the government in 2013.

Osborne also confirmed an increased UK contribution to the ExoMars programme and said that the UK would take the lead on the project, with the Mars rover due to be built in the UK, which was also welcomed by the IOP.

In a new development, Osborne announced that loans of up to £10,000 will be available to people aged under 30 to undertake a taught master’s degree in any subject. The loans are planned to be offered from 2016-17, with transitional arrangements for 2015-16 through an allocation of £50m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The IOP’s associate director for programmes, performance and policy, Philip Diamond, said that the new offer for master’s students was unlikely to be greatly significant for physics, as UK physics students tended to take integrated master’s degrees and did not need a master’s as a stepping stone to a PhD. “There may be some cases where people are swapping the field that they are in, or training up for a particular sector such as the nuclear industry, where this kind of support will be useful to them,” he said.

Commenting on the overall autumn statement, the IOP’s president, Frances Saunders, said: “We’re pleased that there is recognition from government of the continuing value of investing in science.

“However, while one-off initiatives such as the Manchester centre are welcome, we’d like to see how they intend to deliver a sustained commitment to science and innovation in their forward strategy. Previous government investments in science and engineering have delivered huge economic and societal benefits, and a long-term commitment to sustain that investment can ensure that they continue to do so into the future.”

In a separate statement on 8 December, the government confirmed a list of 73 universities and colleges that will receive a share of £200 million funding from HEFCE for science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching capital projects during 2015-16.