£80 Million

Or 8×107 pounds sterling. That’s how much the STFC are planning on slashing from the UK’s physics and astronomy budget. In m s-1 that’s a significant fraction of the speed of light. I guess the point I’m driving at (in my own little way) is that this is rather a lot of money to simply cut from a budget. Frankly, it’s a little concerning.

So let’s backtrack a little… Who the hell are this STFC and why are they messing us around? Well, according to their website the STFC were formed this past year by Royal Charter. Basically, they are the result of a merger between CCLRC and PPARC, and have taken full responsibility of nuclear physics from the EPSRC. They were formed on April 1st 2007. Which should be funny, because their recent actions sound like they should be some kind of a sick joke. Unfortunately no one’s laughing.

Essentially, the newborn STFC has managed to alienate itself from many of the scientists it’s intended to represent by pulling out of several major projects, including the 8-metre Gemini telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, the Isaac Newton telescopes in the Canary Islands and high energy gamma ray astronomy projects. Concerningly, they’re planning to “review funding” for a number of other facilities including the Liverpool Telescope, the Merlin radio interferometer, Astrogrid and (most concerningly) UKIRT in Hawaii. Basically, this threatens to greatly damage the UK’s astronomy research, as many of these are key facilities. UKIRT is actually one that our research group has connections with.

From the news, many scientists are shocked and concerned over this news, and some research groups and even departments may subsequently threaten to close. All of this is bad news. For me as much as others, because I suspect that things are going to get a bit more competitive in this field. The thing is, it would seem, not only is there a concerning lack of communication between the research council and the scientists it speaks for, but the council does not seem to be keen on addressing the concerns of those scientists. Part of me can’t help but suspect that the STFC was only formed because the PPARC would never have agreed to such radical changes. A deeper part of me wonders if this is yet another consequence of needless wars against countries we shouldn’t be interfering with.

The final kick in the teeth is that this action could well be seriously damaging to the UK’s reputation at the international level. Perfectly understandably too. No one wants to collaborate with someone who’s happy to sit through the planning and initial stages of a project, only to decide against continuing once everyone else is committed. I’m starting to become extremely dissatisfied with this country’s conduct. Money wise, it doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.

STFC. Heh… STFU, more like.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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7 Responses to £80 Million

  1. beepbeep says:

    Well, it is weird…
    that at one point they were talking about slashing more than just the 80M; they wanted an extra 40M for “future projects”…!
    And I agree with you; why so mysterious?

  2. invaderxan says:

    Oh? That is strange…
    If I was more paranoid, I might start thinking that they’ve slashed money from the astronomy budget specifically to fund these things! How else could they realistically expect to start a brand new project (that I’ve never heard of before) with the current budget problems?
    Politically, I suppose that would be logical, with more and more nations gaining space travel technology. Frankly though, it seems they should really start communicating more with the rest of us. This is supposed to be a democracy! :P

  3. beepbeep says:

    I found this strange
    It looks like they are planning new stuff when they haven’t yet funded their current commitments?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/02/15/sciastro115.xml

  4. invaderxan says:

    Sadly, Gemini have only reinstated those applications we’ve effectively already paid for (group A). The government don’t seem to get that things need to be planned months in advance. If my group, for example, wanted to use Gemini this year we’d need to start working on a proposal (for group B) very soon, and understandably, none of us want to if there’s a chance we could be wasting our time!
    As for UKIRT, my supervisor’s actually on the UKIRT council. I’m not sure how it might impact us if they decide to stop funding it, but I doubt it would be good…

  5. beepbeep says:

    Re: I think it’s horrible
    Things that make you go hmmm!
    I was glad to hear about Gemini, but I’m worried about UKIRT and the others.

  6. invaderxan says:

    Re: I think it’s horrible
    No one’s quite sure what the real problem is, in truth.
    What I know is:
    Prior to the STFC forming last year, PPARC (the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) had no financial problems, and while they were concerned about meeting their expected budget there were no major gaps forseen.
    Then PPARC merged with CCLRC (the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils). To be honest I don’t know much about what the CCLRC used to do. Some space stuff, laser technology and biomolecular science, amongst others I think. Curiously, since then a mysterious £80 million budget hole appeared and the new council have decided to make all of the cuts in projects formerly managed by PPARC. Curiouser and curiouser, I’m sure you’ll agree…

  7. beepbeep says:

    I think it’s horrible
    And I don’t see why the problem doesn’t get fixed. The money is a lot to an individual, but very small for your government. And I also read that this STFC wants to hoard an additional 40 million if they possibly can for some future thing and would dearly love to make even more cuts to accomplish this. Sounds like the ppl who should be advocating for the current projects and facilities and personnel…just aren’t. Very strange. Something isn’t right, although as a person with no connections living very far away, I don’t have access to what the real problem is.

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