Drooping research

By Anju Sharma
Published: Thursday 15 August 1996

Research departments in the UK are likely to lose out to international competition due to a severe shortage of equipment required for critical experiments in areas of current research. Multinational companies have already started switching their research collaborations to other countries due to poor infrastructure in research departments here, according to a recent survey carried out by Programme of Policy Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (PREST) and the Centre for Applied Social Research (CASR).

The survey found that an astonishing 79 per cent of the country's universities are short of necessary equipment. Even the existing stock leaves a lot to be desired with only 54 per cent considered to have good technical capability -- the rest is mostly obsolete and in poor condition. To get just the priority equipment on their list, universities need about US $700 million or 34 per cent more than what they spent on all equipment over the past five years.

So far, research councils have been the largest funding source, providing 38 per cent of the total spending over the last five years. Funding councils provided 27 per cent while charities provided 13 per cent. Private industry provided about eight per cent of the total funding. The funds from industry are likely to decrease further as they shift their collaborations to better-equipped departments in the US and Conti nental Europe. The last budget, which saw capital funding for universities slashed by 30 per cent, proposed a 50 per cent cut by 1998. But Gareth Roberts, chairperson of the committee of vice-chancellors and principals of the universities of UK warns that the capitals cuts have already had a crippling effect.

A similar survey carried out in 1987 by PREST / CASR, had concluded that large-scale action was necessary to restore infrastructure in the universities. The present report reveals that there has not been any significant improvement since then.

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