May 2010

The Global State of Science Funding

In fact, Africa’s leaders have committed to increasing their research and development expenditures to at least 1 percent of GDP. But, the recession has hurt the economies of developing countries to an even greater extent than it has the developed world.

In October of last year, TWAS, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, held its 11th General Conference in Durban, South Africa. More than 400 attendees gathered to mark the increasing importance of science and technology in Africa, but amid the celebration, there was concern. Because of the global recession, there has been a decrease in science funding from some sources, commented Jean-Pierre Ezin, commissioner for human resources, science and technology for the African Union. “The future is worrying for all.”

Making Their Voices Heard

If there is a bright side to the recent decreases in science funding, it’s that people who understand the importance of investing in science are making their voices heard. The University of California system is struggling with steep cuts to research budgets, faculty furloughs and increased student fees resulting from California’s fiscal crisis. In September, UC faculty, students and staff members participated in a system-wide walkout to protest the budget cuts (11). “I actually think the students ought to be angry,” remarked Mark G. Yudof, UC president, at a Board of Regents meeting last September.

Elsewhere, protesters have issued letter-writing campaigns to denounce decreases in science funding — and in some countries, their message is getting through. Spain and Japan restored science funding this year following a public outcry, led by the scientific community, over budget proposals that slashed resources for research and education.

Worldwide, policymakers are coming to the realization that continued investments in science and technology are crucial for future economic stability and success. “When we fail to invest in research, we fail to invest in the future,” declared President Obama last September. If only every nation’s science budget could reflect that sentiment.

References

1. Makoni, M. (2009) Financial Crisis Squeezes African Science Funding. Science and Development Network, Oct. 22.
2. Jimenez, C. (2009) Spain Poised to Chop Science Funding. Science|Business Network Nov. 26.
3. Sample, I. (2009) Cuts Mark ‘Sad Day for British Science.’ The Guardian, Dec. 16.
4. Research Ministers Adopt Declaration on Role of Science. Spain National R&D Information Service, Feb. 9.
5. 2009 Pre-Budget Report, HM Treasury, Dec. 9.
6. Arthur, M., and Piatt, W. (2010) Universities Face Meltdown— and All of Britain Will Suffer. The Guardian, Jan. 11.
7. Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, National Science Board, National Science Foundation.
8. Jia, H. (2010) China Slows R&D Funding Growth. Royal Society of Chemistry, March 10.
9. Normile, D. (2010) 2010 Science Budget Not Apocalyptic, as Feared. Science 327, 131.
10. Global Education Digest 2009, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
11. Asimov, N. (2009) Walkout Called Over UC Budget Cuts. San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 16. 

Leslie W. Chinn is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute.

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