Reviewing the Spending Review


You probably have heard that the spending review has finally been announced and it is very pleasing to see that the science research budget has been frozen. It is not the greatest of results.

As I mentioned in a previous post, fellow scientist here in the UK started the Science is Vital campaign and I am very pleased to say that it seems to have had some effect and here are some facts about the campaign which were announced by email by Jenny Rohn:

  • 33,000 names on a signature delivered to Downing Street, gathered in only 3 weeks
  • 2000+ (police estimate) scientists and their supporters demonstrating outside the Treasury
  • 100s of articles, radio interviews and TV films in national and international media
  • a 45-minute meeting with Science Minister David Willetts to discuss the issues
  • a question raised in Prime Minister’s Questions
  • a packed lobby in Parliament, including Prof. Adrian Smith, sent by Vince Cable to report back
  • 110 MPs from all main parties signing our Early Day Motion

So, what are some of the key announcements made in the spending review? Here is a summary:

  • From 2011/12 to 2014/15 there will be overall resource savings of 25 per cent from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) budget. This includes 40 per cent savings from higher education and an average 16 per cent savings from the other areas of the BIS budget.
  • This works out as a cut in overall BIS expenditure from £18.6bn in 2010/11 to 14.6bn in 2014/15. The higher education budget will fall from £7.1bn to 4.2bn, a £2.9bn reduction by 2014/15.
  • Lord Browne’s report into University Funding and Student Finance has been largely accepted by the Government. The review states that “subject to Parliamentary consent, universities will be able to increase graduate contributions supported by government loans, with a broadly offsetting reduction in the teaching grant, from the 2012/13 Academic Year.” In other words, we expect a large cut to the HEFCE Teaching Grant to be replaced by higher graduate contributions – it is expected that David Willetts will reveal the detail of this proposal in his speech tomorrow.
  • On a more positive note, the science budget will be maintained in cash terms over the Spending Review period at £4.6bn a year – which works out as a real terms cut of just under 10% over four years.
  • There will be reform of Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) “to incentivise universities to increase commercial interaction between the research base and business.”
  • A new National Scholarship fund of £150m a year by 2014/15 will be established to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and protect those on the lowest incomes in higher education.
  • The Government is to provide £200M a year by 2014/15 to support manufacturing and business development, with a focus on supporting potential high growth companies and the commercialisation of technologies.
  • There will be an increase in funding of £250m a year by 2014/15 on new adult apprenticeships. Money for this scheme is coming from the train to gain budget, which is being abolished.
  • The Department of Health will increase spending on health research in real terms. Within this, additional funding will be made available to support the translation of research into practical applications, including the development of new medicines and therapies.
  • The state pension age will be raised to 66 in 2020 and £1.8bn will be saved from public sector pensions through higher individual contributions. Details of which, will be announced after the full review into pensions by Lord Hutton is published in the Spring.

Decode at the V&A

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity of attending a cocktail reception a the Victoria and Albert Museum in London organised by Bloomberg. The ocassion was the Decode exhibition held mainly in the V&A, but also in the South Kensington Tunnel, the National Art Library and the Science Museum.
The exhibition aims to present the role that new technologies have as tools for artists and designers and how the definition of art can be extended to include these non-traditional media.
As I mentioned, the main part of the exhibition is in the Porter Gallery and for the first time, the V&A has commissioned a digital work for its website. The project is an open-source marketing campaign developed by Karsten Schmidt. Visitors to the site are invited to modify the code and change the appearance of the marketing images used for the exhibition.

The exhibition is divided in three general themes: Code, Interactivity and Network. In the first part, computational code is used in the same manner that a painter uses oils. Going through this first part I couldn’t help thinking that I was looking at screensavers for my computer. One of the most interesting pieces in this part was ‘Troika’ by Digital Zoetrope. The piece uses rapidly blinking LEDs to form words that are constantly rotating and moving, appearing and dissolving.
In the Interactivity theme the contributions are influenced by the viewer. The visitors are invited to interact with the pieces and contribute to their constant evolution. This blur the boundaries between artist and viewer, art and design, performance and audience. Here, there are two pieces that I found very interesting. One is a clock that does what one expects: tells the time. However, the numbers that make up this Exquisite Clock (by FABRICA) are images uploaded by the visitors through a website or an iPhone application. The second one and probably my favourite piece of Decoded is Weave Mirror by Daniel Rozin, which can be described as a responsive sculture that recreates a shadow of the viewer on motorised ribbons with different shades. The effect is a black ghostly image that constantly changes following the movements of the viewer.

The final theme addresses the links that modern society has with the digital world through social networks, mobile technologies and computer systems, allowing new forms of interaction and expression. I particularly liked Shascha Pohflepp’s Social Collider, which used Twitter to reveal spacial and temporal relationships with the stream of data that the users upload. This project was commisioned by Google and I believe that you can follow the project on twitter: @socialcollider.

I enjoyed the visit very much, and the whole experience was enhanced by a couple of glasses of wine, a few bites to eat and a friend I hadn’t seen since December.