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Science 13 April 2012:
Vol. 336 no. 6078 pp. 139-140
NEWS & ANALYSIS
EUROPEAN DEBT CRISIS
Research Cuts Will Cause ‘Exodus’ From Spain
Spanish scientists had ample warning that they were facing a tough funding year ahead. But last week's announcement that the long-delayed 2012 national budget would slash the funding for science by more than 25% surpassed their worst predictions.
According to the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies's (COSCE's) analysis of the budget, carried out since it was presented to the Spanish Parliament on 3 April, the national government will allocate €6.40 billion to scientific investigation, development, and innovation in 2012. Of that, €5.64 billion will be for civil research—a 25.6% decrease compared with last year's budget. The remaining €757 million will be spent on military research—a 24.9% drop from 2011. The overall 25.5% cut is “the most drastic cut known” since national research programs were put in place in the late 1980s, COSCE said in a press statement. COSCE is also concerned because in recent years the government has not even paid the full amount allocated in the science budget.
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Past the peak. Spanish science minister Carmen Vela Olmo (center) has presented a science budget that takes funding back to nearly 2006 levels.
CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM): © SPANISH MINISTRY FOR ECONOMY AND COMPETITIVENESS; (DATA SOURCE) COSCE
The budget cut “is much worse than expected, and that is despite all the mobilizations, statements, and calls of alert from the scientific community,” says Francisco J. Hernández Heras, a Spanish neuroscience postgrad at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. In January, just a few days after the government announced a package of austerity measures that anticipated a €600 million cut in the 2012 science budget, Hernández Heras initiated a petition for Spanish taxpayers to allocate part of their taxes to science as a way of making up the lost money. Protests from the scientific community culminated in an open letter to the government and Parliament on 27 March from COSCE, the Conference of Spanish University Chancellors, the grassroots organization Investigación Digna, the Federation of Young Investigators, and major trade unions.
The letter, which garnered the support of more than 50 additional organizations and 26,700 researchers, warned that the anticipated cut—which turned out to be much smaller than the actual cut—“would cause considerable long-term damage to the already weakened Spanish research system, contributing to its collapse.” By applying a 25% cut to science, compared to the 16.9% average across all ministries, “the Government has not only ignored the scientific community but tried to annihilate it,” says Amaya Moro-Martín, a spokesperson for Investigación Digna.
Secretary of State for Research, Development, and Innovation Carmen Vela Olmo tried to reassure scientists. Under the Spanish research funding system, a large sum—€2.3 billion in 2012—is earmarked for loans to companies to carry out R&D. Although this sum was cut by 28.5% compared to last year, this should be “less damaging,” Vela stated, because more than half the fund was unused last year.
But scientists are especially concerned about the €1.64 billion allocated as lump sums to public research institutes and competitive grants to research teams—down from €2.12 billion last year. Of that money, the chunk of the competitive funding for basic research projects, scientific training, postdoctoral hiring, and scientific infrastructure is to be cut by 38% to €451 million in 2012. “This reduction of competitive funding is in my view the most dangerous evolution of the budget,” says Luis Sanz-Menéndez, director of the CSIC Institute of Public Goods and Policies in Madrid and chair of the Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. “Such a big reduction … is damaging the most dynamic part of the system.”
That decision has already been made for the flagship Juan de la Cierva postdoctoral fellowships and the Ramón y Cajal contracts, which are the closest equivalent to tenure-track positions in Spain. Altogether, their number will decrease by 43% to 340. Young researchers are hit especially hard, with the government also announcing in December that no new permanent positions would be created in the public research institutes, not even to fill positions left vacant by retirement. This will prompt “an exodus of several researcher generations,” warns the Federation of Young Investigators.
After absorbing deep cuts in previous years, the public research institutes are relatively spared this year with a 3.5% reduction in government funding for salaries and part of their running costs. But the large decrease in competitive grants for research teams will indirectly result in less money entering universities to pay for overhead costs, Sanz-Menéndez says. Although universities are mainly supported by the regional governments, austerity measures at the federal level will also create “serious problems,” Sanz-Menéndez adds. “We will probably witness also reductions” in the regional government funding of universities.
“The whole country is suffering a terrible financial and economic crisis, then it would be naïve to believe that [science] will be protected in an environment where you have 5 million unemployed people, … reductions in the health system, or in other … public services,” Sanz-Menéndez says. He encourages scientists to try to promote a more selective and competitive allocation of funds and greater internationalization of Spanish science. “There is a chance to make reforms and change the functioning of the system.”
But most scientists are disappointed. A leitmotiv in public statements of both this and the previous government has been the need to switch from a construction and tourism-based economy toward a knowledge-based one. The budget is “illogical” because it goes in the opposite direction and is “irresponsible because it will have lethal consequences in the short- and in the long-term, not only for Spanish science but [also] for the Spanish economy,” says Moro-Martín, who is a Ramón y Cajal researcher at the Center for Astrobiology near Madrid.
The battle is not over yet, however. Budget figures could be adjusted by amendments in Parliament. “In fact, last week the [opposition party] presented a [proposal] in order to consider R&D as a strategic objective and work towards a global agreement to save R&D,” says COSCE President Carlos Andradas Heranz, a mathematician at the Complutense University of Madrid. “But the actual numbers do not invite [optimism].”
Última edición por pujolet; 13/04/2012 a las 10:05“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”
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