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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK


Call to double UK science funding

World-class: Oxford's nuclear magnetic resonance facility

The UK must double its spending on science by 2008 and end "disgracefully" low pay in universities if it is to retain a world-class science and engineering base, a leading science campaigner says.

[ image: John Mulvey:
John Mulvey: "Feasible target" (Photos: Oxford Physics Photographic Unit)
Dr John Mulvey made the comments as he accepted an honorary degree from University College London in recognition of his work as one of the founders and later Director of the campaign group Save British Science.

Dr Mulvey - now retired - said that scientific research involved a long-term investment in people and their ideas.

If British science were to remain on a par with the best in the world in deserved world-class levels of public funding.

His remarks echo comments by the head of the Wellcome medical research charity, which last week announced pay rises of up to 30% for its UK researchers, who said science was no longer seen as an attractive career option.

Welcome - but not enough

This week should see the publication of the independent Bett Report on pay and conditions in the UK's higher education sector. It is expected to recommend significant pay rises to attract more people with doctorates into teaching.

A leaked draft suggested this would mean a minimum starting salary of £20,000 by 2002, rather than the present £15,000.

Dr Mulvey said the £1bn extra for university science over three years, announced in last year's government spending review, was welcome but inadequate.

"It made an important step in the right direction, but there is still far to go," he said.

Germany, already well ahead of Britain, had just embarked on a programme to double science funding by 2004. It is "a modest but necessary and feasible target" for Britain to double its science budget by 2008.

Public fears

But "adequate" funding was not enough.

"To be world-class, the science and engineering base must attract world-class scientists and engineers to do research and to train the next generation," he said.

"There are serious concerns that Britain is not attracting its best graduates into careers in academic research and teaching.

"It is essential to correct the unacceptable, disgracefully low levels of reward and deplorable career prospects in our universities."

Genuine fears had been raised among the public about issues such as BSE and genetically-modified crops.

Such issues, Dr Mulvey said, emphasised the importance of a "strong, publicly funded research base forming a reservoir of authoritative, reliable and independent advice, free from any hint of being subject to commercial pressures or political expediency".

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