By Michael Banks
Ever since the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) announced a £80m shortfall in its budget late last year — to the wide condemnation of physicists in the UK — here at Physics World we have been trying to cover every twist and turn.
In September — after an STFC programmatic review spelling out which programmes would be funded — we ran opinion pieces in the magazine about the debacle from Brian Foster, European director of the global design effort for the International Linear Collider (ILC), as well as Keith Mason, chief executive of the STFC itself.
We have known for a few months now which facilities would be funded by the STFC in full — and which, like the Gemini telescopes and the ILC, would see the UK’s involvement cut back. What was not known, though, was how much research grants would be slashed.
The STFC earlier in the year issued a warning that up to 25% of grants could be cancelled over the next three years and those that have been issued could even be recalled as a result of the budget deficit. As Foster underlined in his opinion piece: “never before have grants that have been already issued been recalled and cut.”
However, the STFC has now pulled a rabbit out of the hat and come up with £9m over the next two years to plough into the research grants programme. The extra cash will reduce the original shortfall in grants funding by a half. A spokesperson for the STFC told me the new money has come from within the budget allocation and not from any external source. “[It originated from] how we manage our risks and our exposure to foreign currency fluctuations,” the spokesperson added.
This seems surprising as exposure to currency fluctuations was one of the main reasons given by the STFC management for its woes. However, for the time being physicists seem happy. “The flexibility that STFC have employed in addressing the reduction in grants is very welcome,” says particle physicist Mark Lancaster from University College London, who has been campaigning against the STFC cuts.
The new money will be available for the next grants round, but the STFC do not yet know how it will be distributed across sub-disciplines.