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Universities warn Willetts on science cuts

80s-style brain drain ahead

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Jostling for cash ahead of the coalition government's slash-and-burn, six leading universities have told Science Minister David Willetts that the UK is at risk of losing its best researchers because of real or perceived shortfalls in funding.

When Willetts gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology in July he asked them to provide evidence that worse funding for research would make the UK less attractive for researchers.

In response the Lords collected evidence from six universities.

Imperial College said that it was too soon to see evidence of recent threats to funding but it had seen an increase in its staff moving overseas from eight per cent to 24 per cent over the last five years. The concern is not just over academics' salaries but wider funding for lab work and other research expenses.

The Lords' letter said:

Professor O’Shea of the University of Edinburgh referred to two senior researchers who returned to posts in the United States this year, “citing difficulties in attracting good international postgraduate research talent as a factor in their departure”.

O'Shea added: “We do not come close to the resource offered by major US universities or by the Max Planck Institutes in Germany, which are able to offer many more very attractive fully-funded packages for the best and brightest PhD students”.

A spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills told the BBC: "We cannot speculate on the spending review while the process continues. Public spending on science, just like everything else has to stand up to rigorous economic scrutiny. In these austere times, the public should expect nothing less."

The Lords Committee said it will publish its own letter and that from the universities on its homepage, but hasn't so done yet. In the mean time the Beeb has Lord Kreb's letter.

The six universities which gave evidence to Krebs were the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh. ®

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