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BCS: Funding cuts will harm computing research

Slashing research council budgets could have a detrimental effect on the UK IT industry, warns the British Computing Society
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

The British Computing Society has warned that the UK's computing sector could be harmed by the government's decision to cut science and technology research budgets.

Funding for research councils has been slashed by £68m this year, from £196m to £128m, the government announced last week, with science and technology councils bearing the brunt of the cuts. On Monday the British Computing Society (BCS) expressed particular concern over cuts to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding amounting to £29m, which the BCS says could have a negative effect on the ability of the EPSRC to fund science research.

"This drastic cut in EPSRC's funding conflicts directly with the government's stated commitment to science and innovation," said Steve Furber, BCS Learned Society vice president.

"It is unclear what the impact will be on EPSRC's future ability to fund computing research," said Furber. "The government seems to be signalling to potential science applicants that computing research is not accorded a high priority."

The BCS is concerned that cuts to funding could set off a chain of events that will ultimately have a negative effect on the UK economy. With less funding being awarded to UK research, fewer IT and engineering graduates will be encouraged to stay in the UK, causing a drastic loss of valuable skills.

In November last year the BCS warned that the UK faces a looming IT skills crisis, citing a 30 percent fall in students beginning full-time undergraduate computer science degrees since 2001. This reduction, coupled with a technology industry increasingly hungry for skills, could have a major effect on the UK economy, warned BCS president, professor Nigel Shadbolt.

Last week, the chief executives of several research councils also expressed concerns over the cuts. Research councils fund projects over many years, and large proportions of their budgets are committed several years in advance.

"Any adjustments in our budgets will have significant implications for our ability to respond to new challenges of importance to society and the economy," said the research councils in a joint statement.

Speaking on behalf of the research councils, professor Ian Diamond said: "The Research Base provides the intellectual energy to meet the challenges posed by globalisation. While we are satisfied that the government remains committed to the 10-year science and innovation investment framework, reductions in research council budgets will inevitably have an impact on our ability to maintain the quality of the research base and to fully realise its benefits."

The Department of Trade and Industry, which allocates the budgets, had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

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