What are the prospects for UK science? We know that the research budget fared comparatively better than other areas of public spend in 2010 (up to 2014/15) but these are difficult times, and what might happen after 2014/15, and following the next election?

In Barack Obama’s State of the Union address yesterday, the President said, “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race”.

But the focus of the speech (some highlights for science and innovation are given below) is on jobs and the economy, and US scientists are already feeling the bite of US budget sequester.

In Europe too, member states have agreed to slash the overall EU budget for 2014-2020, and have proposed a 13% cut to the European Commission’s proposals for the Horizon 2020 research programme (to 69.24 billion Euros, compared to the 80 billion proposed and the 100 billion originally called for by the Parliament).

However, even among these cuts to research, hope for science and innovation might spring from other types of smart public sector investment; infrastructure, skills, trade and immigration reform.

As we have previously discussed, the UK government have announced capital investments in science at every budget statement since 2010. But given austerity, are future science investments likely and would they be accompanied by cuts or expectations for reform in others areas?

Science policy highlights from the State of the Union address:

  • New jobs and manufacturing – the President set out ambitions for 15 manufacturing innovation hubs;
  • Cleaner power and greater energy independence – including work to “encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner”… and an “Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good”. The President also pledged Federal support for competitions for energy efficient buildings;
  • Infrastructure – high speed rail and internet, but also includes high tech schools;
  • Skills and training – high quality preschool and “a redesign of high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy” and reward schools that “develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math[s] – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future”;
  • Changes to the Higher Education Act – so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid, plus a “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on […] where you can get the most bang for your educational buck;
  • Comprehensive immigration reform – to attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs;
  • Paycheck Fairness Act – to resolve gender differences in pay;
  • A new executive order that will strengthen cyber defences; and
  • A Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU to strengthen US jobs and level the playing field with the growing markets of Asia.