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expert reaction to cuts to the science budget

We gathered these quotes to coincide with our SMC Briefing to capture some of the strong feelings out there on the UK’s science funding cuts.


Prof Dame Anne Glover, RSE President, said:

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is very disappointed by the UK Government’s decision to implement unprecedented and immediate ODA funding cuts. This will have a significant and detrimental impact on ongoing international research carried out with Low- and Middle-income Countries as well as the potential to set back progress on international development by decades, enhancing further inequalities among nations.

This situation is made worse by the ongoing uncertainty around the potential for further reductions to the UK science and innovation budget. The science and research sectors require urgent clarity on how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe will be funded, including the implications this has for the UKRI science and innovation budget. There is a real risk that UK science will be put firmly on the back foot if the domestic science budget is cut. This comes at a time when the UK Government has set out ambitious commitments for science and research in the R&D Roadmap, including plans for levelling-up investment across the UK, as well as the commitment to launch the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) to support high risk science. Reductions to ODA and the wider science budget risks undermining the UK’s international reputation and damaging research capacity and capability at a time when the profile of UK science has not been higher.    


Prof Sir Jim McDonald FREng , President, Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), said:

“World-leading scientific research coupled with engineering innovation provides the lifeblood of economic success in the modern world, and international cooperation is essential for the success of ‘Global Britain’. While economic circumstances are challenging, it was very disappointing that research and innovation programmes suffered severely when International Development expenditure was reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% of UK GNI, despite appeals from across the charity and research sectors to the Foreign Secretary.

“The Academy’s own ODA funded programmes, supporting engineers from across low and middle income countries to address development challenges, have suffered a 73% funding cut and no new activities will be permitted in 2021/22 with government funding. This will impact heavily on the valuable relationships we have built up with research and innovation partners around the world.

“Given the government’s stated aim to make the UK a science and technology superpower, it would be entirely counter productive if the research and innovation budget has to be stretched to breaking point because the 2020 spending review did not make sufficient allowances to cover the initial cost of association to Horizon Europe. We need both dynamic domestic support systems and vibrant opportunities for international collaboration, and to put either on hold for a year would be harmful, and clearly at odds with the laudable ambitions that the government has set out.

“The UK faces huge challenges in achieving a recovery that marries economic renewal with the societal goals of spreading opportunity and skilled employment more evenly across the nation. Against this backdrop, supporting both innovation and international cooperation is vital to ensure that the UK translates its world-class research into technological breakthroughs that can enhance the productivity and competitiveness of UK business and deliver tangible societal benefit.”


Sir Paul Nurse FRS FMedSci HonFREng, Director, Francis Crick Institute, said:

“We are facing a huge threat to the future of scientific research in the UK. Research requires consistent support and investment that transcends political cycles. You can’t turn the tap off and on and expect to achieve growth in innovation and the economy. Outstanding scientists will simply leave the UK and go elsewhere.

“With access to opportunities curtailed, fewer researchers would be able to kick-start and progress in their careers and the UK’s skills pipeline would be negatively affected for years to come.”


Prof David Price, Vice-Provost (Research), University College London (UCL), said:

“From the rapid generation of vaccines by UK scientists to the discovery of new uses of drugs, the COVID pandemic has demonstrated the countless ways in which the UK’s scientific community has had a real impact on the lives of millions of people around the world.

“This hasn’t happened by accident. It is a result of the brilliance of our research community combined with sustained funding support and investment. So it is welcome that the Government has recognised this with its commitment to increase total investment in research and development to 2.4% of UK GDP by 2027.

“However, the UK faces two critical issues at the moment: uncertainty about the ways in which the UK Government will meet its commitment to associate with Horizon Europe and cuts to research funding through Official Development Assistance (ODA).

“The former is destabilising UK research and innovation just at the time when the Government is promoting its ‘scientific superpower’ agenda and risks choking off the pipeline of research that has enabled UK universities to respond so effectively to the pandemic and will ensure its recovery through research and innovation.

“The second issue is cuts to ODA research funding, which risks damage to the UK and its international standing. The problems addressed by international development research are not isolated overseas: raising levels of health, wellbeing and prosperity in low and middle income countries serves the UK’s interests too. A ‘Global Britain’ will need trading partners, engaged allies and nations that recognise our mutual interests.

“That is why we need urgent clarity from the Government about plans to fund Horizon Europe and a commitment to the long-term financial sustainability of UK research and innovation to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of addressing the greatest problems facing the world today.


Prof Paul Workman FRS FMedSci, Chief Executive, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, said:

“I am deeply concerned that the proposed reduction in the UK science budget will help create a perfect storm for research organisations like mine – The Institute of Cancer Research, London. We are already facing alarming cuts to grants from medical research charities because of the financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

“Cutting the UK research budget now would be catastrophic for science – delaying important discoveries, robbing patients of a better future and missing a golden opportunity to fuel our economic recovery from COVID-19. Such deep cuts would be incompatible with the Prime Minister’s own vision of the UK as a global science superpower.”

Note to editors: The ICR have published a blog from Prof Workman that discusses in more detail what the proposed cuts would mean for cancer research in the UK.


Lord Narendra Patel FMedSci, Chair, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said:

“The threatened cuts to the science budget not only undermine current and future science research, but also several of the government’s own policies aimed at making the UK a science superpower, and through job losses will also threaten the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.“


Prof Arne Akbar FMedSci, President, British Society for Immunology, said:

“The British Society for Immunology is extremely concerned about the current risk to UK science funding. Scientific research and discovery have paved our route out of this pandemic but the cuts to the ODA budget plus the potential consequences of Horizon Europe funding being met from existing budgets threatens to undermine the UK’s ambition to be a science superpower and leave a gaping hole in our record of research excellence.

“The UK is a world leader in immunology research and that status has paid back dividends not least during this pandemic. UK researchers have excelled in driving our knowledge base forward and developing new treatments and vaccines, saving many thousands of lives and hastening our exit from the pandemic. But these research discoveries were not made overnight. For example, the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine was developed off the back of many years of basic and translational research funding that allowed the team to move so quickly to develop the new vaccine when needed.

“While the UK now faces a challenging economic environment, cutting spending on research is not the answer. We know that investing in R&D can drive the economy forward, bringing in private investment and driving innovation. It also allows us to prepare for future challenges that the UK will face, such as climate change, ageing populations and future pandemics. To decrease the UK’s investment in science now would throw away years of work in building a strong and internationally leading science base delivering life-saving outcomes for patients. Our research community and the UK public deserve better.”


Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, a spokesperson for the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said:

“The Lords Science and Technology Committee has written to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about the current R&D funding issues, highlighting their impact upon policy ambitions at home and abroad. The Committee wrote that, “These cuts will have deep and lasting effects on scientific research and development in the UK, and would undermine the Government’s ambitions for the UK to become a ‘science superpower’. They would also lead to significant job losses, and inhibit the use of R&D to drive economic development and the levelling-up agenda.” The Committee will be holding an evidence session about the issues with the Secretary of State at BEIS after Easter recess.”


Hilary Reynolds, Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), said:

“Research has saved millions of lives during this pandemic – now we must save research.

“For the last year we’ve been telling government that charity-funded research is at risk, but time and time again they’ve failed to provide the support to protect it.

“Research is dependent on many parts. If one part is starved of the necessary funding then the rest of the pipeline slows or grinds to a halt, depriving thousands of people of the hope of vital new treatments.

“Just last week, the Science and Technology Committee highlighted this as a key concern alongside research funding issues related to ODA and Horizon Europe.

“We urge government to help protect the UK’s research to ensure it can continue to save and improve millions more lives.”


Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), said:

“Medical research charities like Cancer Research UK are the life blood of research and development in the UK. Our investments have helped develop eight of the world’s top ten cancer drugs. But the pandemic has hit our income and if we don’t find further financial support, Cancer Research UK will regrettably need to make major cuts to our research budget every year for the next four to five years. Across the UK, this would mean spending up to £150 million less per year on research than we’d originally planned, leaving scientists with fewer options to discover the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

“The Government still has the opportunity to provide the support needed to ensure medical research charities don’t have to make swathing cuts. For the UK to meet its ambitions to be a science superpower, the contributions of medical research charities need to be protected.”


Dr Tina Joshi, Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology, University of Portsmouth, said:

“The recent announcements of cuts to the UK research budget could not have come at a worse possible time for UK researchers. UK researchers have played an essential role in tackling global challenges and in the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering lifesaving solutions at a global scale. These cuts threaten to undo progress in tackling global challenges (e.g. infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance and climate change), and mean that researchers will have no choice but to abandon their research partnerships with developing countries. We need the government to reconsider these cuts which are at odds with their ambition for the UK to be a science superpower.”



Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it. As such, our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared – instead, they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.


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