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RAS welcomes consultation, but remains dismayed at cuts to UK Astronomy

05.03.2008
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) welcomes the consultation announced by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) on priorities for scientific research. However, the Society remains deeply concerned about the impact planned cuts will have on UK research in astronomy, space science and solar-system physics.

At Monday’s ‘Town Meeting’ organised for the members of the scientific community most affected by the cuts, STFC officials presented the Programmatic Review for 2007-8. This was assembled following advice from STFC advisory panels and ranks research projects into priority groups. The ranking of a particular project indicates whether it is likely to be funded or instead faces closure in the near future.

The RAS does not accept the classification of many of the projects classified as ‘lowest priority’. Some of these have a high profile, including the Gemini Observatory, the e-Merlin network centred on the Jodrell Bank radio observatory, and UK involvement in the Hinode space observatory currently being used to study activity on the Sun. Alongside the risks to these and other projects is a 25% cut in the STFC research grants to universities that will see numbers of postdoctoral researchers in space science and astronomy fall to their lowest level for 7 years.

There is also a real concern that the consultation with the science community on the Review is too brief for responses to be heard. This began yesterday and will close on 21 March – by comparison UK Government guidelines on public consultation suggest a minimum period of 12 weeks.

The RAS urges STFC to ensure that the consultation is as open and transparent as possible and that every effort is made to engage the whole of the astronomy and space science community. The Society also urges the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) to find ways to help STFC support UK astronomy and space science.

President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson commented on the STFC announcement:

“I welcome the commitment by STFC to consult with the wider community on what remains a severe package of cuts. It is vital that the consultation is as fair and transparent as possible so that the eventual decisions are seen to be made on an objective basis.

‘The RAS will continue to press DIUS to find ways to mitigate the cuts to STFC, the consequences of which are now all too clear. Closing down UK involvement in a swathe of projects will harm our ability to carry out cutting-edge research, our international reputation and our ability to attract young people into science and physics in particular.

‘We also continue to be concerned about the time-scale for this process – our view remains that no irreversible decisions should be taken before the Wakeham Review of Physics reports in September.”

Robert Massey | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ras.org.uk

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