IOP welcomes protection for science funding in remainder of this parliament

25 November 2015

The Institute of Physics (IOP) has welcomed today’s announcement that the science budget will be protected in real terms for the remainder of the current parliament.

The announcement was made by the chancellor, George Osborne, in his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons. The details of the spending plans were also released by the Treasury today.

Professor Paul Hardaker, chief executive of the IOP, said: “To grow our economy and create jobs, the UK must be competitive and that means investing in science and bringing that science to market.

“George Osborne has announced today that the £4.7bn science budget has been protected in real terms over the period of this parliament. It shows that this government is committed to investing in science and ensuring that we maximise the potential economic and societal gains from doing so in the future. This will help UK science but we still need to be mindful of how this compares to higher investment by international competitors.

“We will work with our colleagues across science and education to examine the detail of the Spending Review to better understand the implications and the spending power of these commitments.

“We also hope that detail in the settlement for the Department for Education will allow us to continue our transformative work to improve physics education.”

Among the details announced today were that the £4.7bn science funding will mean total spend will be more than £500m higher by the end of this parliament compared to 2015/16. This will include a new £1.5bn Global Challenges Fund, though this is also part of the UK’s commitment to aid. The overall Business, Innovation and Skills budget will be reduced by 17% and some grants given by Innovate UK to support companies to innovate will now be replaced by loans – these new financial products will, however, reach £165m a year by 2019/20, so the support offered by Innovate UK will be maintained in cash terms.

The government has also announced that it will implement the recommendations of the Nurse Review, which include moving the research councils under an overarching body to be called Research UK. The IOP commented on the proposals on 19 November.

Other commitments include providing £75m to unlock a £300m investment to transform the Cavendish Laboratories at the University of Cambridge (subject to approvals); £250m for a small modular reactor development, creating opportunities for the north of England’s centre of nuclear excellence, and wider nuclear R&D; and funding aerospace and automotive technologies for 10 years, providing £1bn extra funding in these sectors.

The government has announced that it will provide support to secure launch funding to create a new university in Hereford, focused on engineering. It will also provide an exemption for energy intensive industries, including the steel industry, from the policy costs of the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariffs.

In education, the government has announced that it will reduce the teaching grant by £120m in cash terms by 2019-20, but allow funding for high cost subjects to be protected in real terms; allow sixth form colleges to become academies; turn student maintenance loans into maintenance grants; make maintenance loans available for part-time students and increase loan support for students from low and middle-income backgrounds studying away from home outside London; and has confirmed that it will introduce postgraduate loans from 2016/17, including for distance learning students, publishing the results of a consultation on the issue today.

In a measure that the IOP had called for, the government has said that it will remove the restriction barring people who already have a degree from accessing student loans to study for a second degree in science, technology, engineering or maths, from 2017/18.