Another UK Astronomy Funding Crisis?

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Rumours are coming in to the effect that the UK research council that funds astronomy, the STFC, is in the throes of a further funding crisis.

The full and sorry story of the STFCs financial woes, which go back to its formation from the amalgamation of PPARC (who used to fund astrophysics and particle physics in the UK) and the CCLRC (the ‘large labs’ funding council in the UK, looking after Daresbury, Rutherford and Diamond) can be found in great detail here. It had looked as if things were calming down, though we were all rather worried about the current reviews underway on both astronomy facilities and research areas. Worries were heightened today with the following news from STFC:

‘STFC Council policy on grants

STFC Council examined progress of its current science and technology prioritisation exercise at a strategy session on 21 and 22 September. Without prejudging the outcome of the prioritisation, Council agreed that prudent financial management required a re-examination of upcoming grants.

Council therefore agreed that new grants will be issued only to October 2010 in the first instance. This temporary policy is in place pending the outcome of the prioritisation exercise, expected in the New Year.’

From STFC.

This suggests that the current money shortages are so severe that the reviews will lead to substantial changes in priorities, possibly with significant areas of research being cut. Any grants from the current application round, already nearing completion, will not reflect these cuts so, without some way of keeping those grants short term, as was announced today, there is the risk of ‘sending good money after bad’.

One might think that this is a rather paranoid interpretation, but there are other rumours circulating of budget holes at STFC in the tens of millions. Again.

The short term exploitation of Herschel data in the UK is probably safe, but the long term prospects for astronomy don’t look so good this evening…

Meanwhile, there should be another press release from Herschel soon, so I can return you to pretty pictures rather than depressing news.

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