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Science Programme Prioritisation 2010-2015

The Science and Technology Facilities Council today announced a five-year £2.4 billion investment strategy in world-leading multi-disciplinary science and technology, designed to deliver maximum scientific, societal, international and economic benefit for the United Kingdom in the current tougher financial environment.

“The Council of STFC has approved an affordable, robust and sustainable programme. This has involved tough choices affecting the entire programme including a managed withdrawal from some areas,” STFC chairman, Professor Michael Sterling FREng, said.

“This is a major reorganisation of our programme to focus on the top priority items making use of the international subscriptions which, while costly, allow UK scientists critically important access to the world class facilities provided by these international consortia. We have also planned on the basis of the current value of the pound.”

Professor Sterling said the strategic consolidation and redirection of the science programme would ensure continued major benefits for the UK.

“Taxpayers can be confident that their significant investment in research will deliver the highest quality, and most inspiring and beneficial, science and technology into the future,” he said.

Professor Sterling acknowledged the hard work over many months by the members of Science Board, its science committees and panels, and STFC staff, to ensure Council received the best possible scientific advice.

“Council approved this programme based on the recommendations from Science Board and its advisory bodies, which comprise leading academics from across the disciplines supported by STFC. We also welcomed the advice given to Science Board from other bodies including the Economic Impact Advisory Board,” Professor Sterling said.

The five-year programme includes:

  • A budget of £461 million near-cash (plus £73m additional capital grants) in 2010-11, which will allow STFC to make the transition to the new programme from 2011-12 onward. This budget assumes international compensation and the additional £14 million referred to below.
  • From 2010-11, ongoing support for our international subscriptions, a 10% reduction in support for future exploitation grants and a managed cessation of lower priority areas, 25% reduction in the number of new studentships and Fellowships mirroring the overall reduction in the programme since the 2007 baseline, and a rationalisation of our projects based on prioritisation and affordability.
  • Research Councils UK has agreed that the other Research Councils will make up to £14m available to STFC from within the Science and Research budget. This exceptional action, in financial year 2010-11 only, will assist STFC to move to a sustainable new strategy in line with the level of resource already provided to STFC by Government in CSR07. In particular it will remove the risk that STFC's existing research grants to universities, for scientific exploitation activities, would need to be terminated early.
  • £690 million over five years for support for particle physics in the UK, focusing on work at the European particle physics laboratory CERN in Geneva where the Large Hadron Collider is expected to start routine science operations in January 2010, other experiments including into properties of neutrinos, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment.
  • £639 million over five years for support for space science in the UK through membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) including the Cosmic Vision programme and the Aurora programme of planetary exploration expected to deliver a robotic mission to Mars within 10 years, other bilateral missions, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment. We will seek to achieve an overall lower level of support, including post launch support, for lower priority missions.
  • £267 million over five years for support for ground-based astronomy in the UK, focusing on access to the world-leading telescopes ALMA, VLT & VISTA in Chile through membership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) organisation, ongoing research & development support for the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), operation of SCUBA-2 on the JCMT until 2012, previously agreed support for e-MERLIN as part of our strategy for the SKA, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment.
  • £258 million over five years for access to light sources for the medical, biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other sciences and engineering through the provision and upgrades of the Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble.
  • £236 million over five years for access to neutron sources for the medical, biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other sciences and engineering through the provision and upgrades of the ISIS neutron-muon facility in Oxfordshire and the Institute Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, as part of a wider European strategy for the future provision of neutrons.
  • £30 million over five years for support for nuclear physics, focussed on the NUSTAR project, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment.
  • £27 million over five years for support for high powered laser research. In addition we will invest substantial capital in the Vulcan 10 PetaWatt laser upgrade.
  • A refocused accelerator activity at Daresbury to take forward pioneering work on the application of accelerators to physics, medical, bio-medical, energy, engineering and other life sciences in the UK, building on the existing investment in the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) and Cockcroft Institute at Daresbury, and previously agreed support for the John Adams Institute at University of Oxford & Royal Holloway, University of London.
  • Development of the National Science and Innovation Campuses at Harwell in Oxfordshire, and Daresbury in Cheshire, confirming the two Campuses as centres for new collaborative engagement between researchers, academics and industry across the UK and Europe leading to new research outcomes, new investment, and greater economic return.
  • Provision of an extensive range of support and enabling technologies for the entire research base across the UK and Europe, including the Microelectronics Support Centre at Harwell delivering training for engineers across Europe, the e-Science Centre supporting data transfer and analysis across the entire UK academic network, and computational science and engineering support for quantum chemistry, molecular simulation, solid-state physics, materials simulation, engineering and environmental simulations.
  • Ongoing support for public outreach and science communication, through continuance of our award schemes and Fellowships, and public engagement and communications, helping to ensure new generations of children are enthused and inspired by science, and encouraged to continue study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

As noted above the programme includes the managed withdrawal from a number of projects and programmes including the Gemini telescopes, the NLS, and UKIRT. (see attachment A).

Chief Executive Officer, Professor Keith Mason, said discussions would be held in coming months with national and international partners, including universities, departments and project teams, on implementation of the investment strategy. This will include discussions with EPSRC and the University funding councils on the impact of these measures on physics departments in universities.

“We will ensure a managed withdrawal from those activities that we will no longer support, taking into account the fact that the academic and research community of scientists is a national resource. We recognise that ‘economic and societal impact’ is a result of scientific achievement, and that scientific achievement is a result of the underlying academic and research community without whose ideas and drive no innovation would emerge,” Professor Mason said.

“The programme adopted by Council is extensive and will require both external and internal re-alignment and change. The managed withdrawal from identified projects will allow members of our scientific communities to redirect their efforts, or where possible to seek other sources of funding for their projects.

“We have already initiated this process with our staff, universities; partner Research Councils, the Institute of Physics and Royal Astronomical Society, project leaders, international partners and others.”

Professor Mason said the detailed implementation of some measures would, of necessity, await input from these stakeholder discussions. He said STFC was committed to regular assessment of projects and programmes to ensure scientific objectives were being met and value-for-money delivered.

“Our focus on ensuring the highest possible standards of scientific excellence, as well as delivery of maximum benefit for the taxpayer, underpinned the now-concluded programme prioritisation and will continue to be a core principle into the future,” Professor Mason said.


Background to the prioritisation programme

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is one of Europe's largest multi-disciplinary research organisations, supporting scientists and engineers world-wide.

We operate world-class, large-scale research facilities, provide strategic advice to the government on their development, manage international research projects in support of a broad cross-section of the UK research community, support universities and projects through grants, provide a range of technology and skills, and work to inspire and enthuse the next generation of scientists, technologists and engineers.

Our Vision is to maximise the impact of our knowledge, skills, facilities and resources for the benefit of the United Kingdom and its people and in delivering this we are committed to supporting both curiosity-driven and application-led research.

Since establishment in April 2007, STFC’s operating environment has changed dramatically as a result of the global financial crisis, including the fall in the value of the pound. The medium and longer term forecasts of the effect of the financial crisis upon public expenditure suggest ongoing tough times for many years to come.

STFC therefore conducted a major science prioritisation exercise, commencing in May 2009 and concluding in December 2009. We did so for two reasons:

  • to prepare for the inevitably tougher budget outcomes expected as a result of the financial crisis, and
  • to ensure our programme delivers maximum scientific, social, economic and international benefit to the UK.

The prioritised programme that has been adopted by the Council is based on reports from the group of independent scientists who comprise our Science Board and its advisory committees. Other advisory bodies also provided input. This advice sets a clear context for our programme moving forward. The next stage in the process will be to develop an implementation plan.

The implementation stage will include discussion with relevant national and international stakeholders.


  • Chris Buratta
    External Communications Manager
    Tel: +44 (0)7590 449 454br />  

Attachment A

PPAN projects to be funded

Advanced LIGO, JCMT (to 2012), Gemini (until end 2012), ING (to 2012), KMOS, VISTA, Dark Energy Survey, E-ELT R&D, SKA R&D, SuperWASP, e-Merlin, Zeplin III; Total cost of £87m over 5 years

Particle Physics
ATLAS, CMS, GridPP, nEDM, Cockroft Institute, IPPP, LHCb, MICE, SuperNEMO, T2K, John Adams Institute; Total cost of £155m over 5 years

Nuclear Physics
NUSTAR; Total cost of £11m over 5 years

Aurora, GAIA, Herschel, JWST-MIRI, LISA Pathfinder, Rosetta, Planck, ExoMars, Hinode, Cosmic Vision, Solar Orbiter, Stereo, Swift, Bepi-Colombo; Total cost of £114m over 5 years

Current PPAN projects subject to discussions leading to managed withdrawal

Auger, Inverse Square Law, ROSA, ALMA regional centre, JIVE, Liverpool Telescope, UKIRT. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £16m. Total savings of £29m over 5 years

Particle Physics
Boulby, CDF, D0, eEDM, Low Mass, MINOS, Particle Calorimeter, Spider, UK Neutrino Factory. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £25m. Total Savings of £32m over 5 years

Nuclear Physics
AGATA, ALICE at CERN, PANDA. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £2m. Total Savings of £12m over 5 years

Cassini, Cluster, SOHO, Venus Express, XMM. Additional reduction imposed on ongoing projects of £28m. Total Savings of £42m over 5 years

PALS facilities to be funded

Astra / Astra-Gemini, Diamond, ESRF, ILL, ISIS, Vulcan 10 PetaWatt.

Current PALS facilities subject to discussions leading to managed withdrawal

NLS, Photon Science Institute (STFC), XFEL.

Last updated: 01 April 2016


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