STFC Funding Crisis: Astronomy

This page attempts to provide a brief summary of the STFC CSR07 submission plus subsequent cost savings, based in part upon (unofficial) STFC documents from Sep 07 released under FoI legislation in Jan 08 plus (official) STFC restructuring plan savings reported in Council news from 29 Apr 08, split between ex-PPARC programmes (£33M, almost wholly research grants), ex-CCLRC programmes (£38M) and management (£9M) as outlined below. According to a senior STFC source the ex-PPARC savings would have been similar for a flat-cash settlement had PPARC and CCLRC not merged. A written answer from Ian Pearson MP to a question from David Heathcoat-Amory MP on 14 May 08 provides a summary of STFC expenditure on astronomy and space science research in 2007/08 and 2008/09.

Over the whole CSR07 period (2008/09 - 2010/11), the near-cash allocation for STFC was £1290M, representing a widely reported £80M shortfall compared to that required to support the existing STFC programme.

The £80M shortfall..

Total (pre-settlement figures from Sep 07) costs for STFC's existing programme over the CSR07 period are as follows:

The extra £40M headroom..

This leaves no headroom for a number of new high priority opportunities (initially an extra £40M headroom was set aside), including components of the following, which were part of the CSR07 submission:

The 2008 restructuring plan..

To balance the budget (strictly each year of the CSR07 period) to accommodate new high priority PPAN and PALS opportunities, the following savings have been reported in Council news from 29 Apr 08 or outlined in presentations to staff at RAL on 1 May 08:

The disputed £75m legacy from CCLRC..

The IUSS committee report from 30 Apr 08 expressed concern that the former PPARC community has been saddled with a £75M deficit (based on the £25M annual deficit identified in a National Audit Office report) from CCLRC to meet the running costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2.

The restructuring plan does outline cost savings through staff and infrastructure cuts to PALS and general programmes, apparently to accomodate new PALS programmes plus existing facility operations - but not explicitly `restore facilities operations' of £25M over CSR07 for Diamond and ISIS TS2.

The international subscriptions issue..

Prior to CSR07, allowance for exchange rate or GDP variations in international subscriptions was top sliced from all Research Councils. Now individual Councils (STFC, NERC) are liable for (at least) the first £6M of increased costs per financial year, with additional charges to be negotiated with DIUS (this was reduced to the first £3M per annum in late 2008 - see update). By way of example, higher than anticipated fees of international subscriptions for 2008/09 (£180M for ESO, CERN, ESA and Gemini; £22M for ESRF and ILL reported in Mar 08), are substantially up from, respectively, £128M and £20M anticipated in Sep 07. These increases are partially addressed by £6M put aside to cover additional changes, to which:

are necessary to avoid additional cuts to other programmes.

The uplift in the volume of research grants..

On 15 Oct 08, STFC announced additional £9M funds of which £6M will go towards research grants (the remainder will apparently to towards Knowledge Transfer schemes according to testimony from Prof Keith Mason to the IUSS Ctte on 4 Feb 09). Typical costs of PDRAs are £70K/yr so the extra funding will restore approx 25 extra positions, spread across astronomy, space science, particle and nuclear physics for 2008 and 2009 applications. 7 additional AGP awards were made in the 2008 round (91), whereas the expected 90 for the AGP 2009 round may be reduced to circa 75 (see announcement from Prof Mike Cruise at Astronomy Forum on 15 Jan 10), with a further reduction planned thereafter.

The 2009 Prioritization exercise..

The 16 Dec 09 Science Programme Prioritisation 2010-2015 announcement included details of the 2010/11 budget, which required repayment of £46m loans from 2008/09 and 2009/10 to BIS. The headline near-cash award for 2010/11 of £461m assumes continued compensation from BIS for the impact of currency fluctuations on major international subscriptions, and includes an additional contribution from other Research Councils to the value of £14m which will allow previously awarded research grants to be honoured. Formally new grant awards will be cut by 10% (in addition to 25% cut during CSR07), although AGP currently looks set to fall by a further 30%. New PhD studentship/fellowship awards will also be cut by 25% for 2010/11, although the burden of this round is to be met by the cancellation of the postdoctoral fellowship (PDF) scheme. Additional savings to PPAN over the next 5 years are planned to increase the budget for Facilities by circa £25M p.a.