In a rare step into the limelight, the Research Councils got a mention on the BBC’s Today Programme, with a piece about their reaction to the recent reduction in funding. The DTI response, that the cut was just 1% of science expenditure, missed the point that was being made. Research funding is a long-term thing not short-term and this is the first time research funding has been taken to cover for short-term problems elsewhere. And these, despite the comment of the Beeb’s Pallab Ghosh, are not part of the Civil Service, but agencies that are, officially, at ‘arms length’ from government. It also overlooked the fact that if you take 1% of the budget with only a little over one month of the financial year remaining, and do so from organisations whose expenditure is committed for many years, the effect is greatly magnified: the chancellor has effectively just inserted a little ‘boom and bust’ into university funding.
It was also strange to see so many Research Council heads speaking out at once. One could almost be forgiven for wondering whether one of their ‘arms length’ masters in a less liberated position had given them permission to do so.