A hit below the belt to Spanish science

Jan 30, 2013
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In a report published last Thursday, the Spanish government released a sudden modification of the established rules pertaining to the financing of research projects sentencing the research community to more hardships.

Public funds are the main financing source that Spanish science relies on. These programs, which fund research projects as well as individual investigators (mostly young talented scientists starting their labs and returning from postdocs overseas) are granted every year and typically provide funds for projects spanning 3-to-5 years. In the present financial climate, the Spanish government has been continuously and drastically cutting funds for these programs.

In 2009 the Spanish government spent 547 million euros to support science. In the latest resolution of these programs, published last December, these funds were reduced to 309 million (a more than 40% reduction). Rubbing salt into the wound, these funds will also be significantly delayed according to the recent communication, which states that researchers will receive the funds in four years instead of the three that the original call had stipulated back in December 2011.

Making things even worse, the government has announced that during the first year, less than 10% of the funds will be made available to scientists. This is in direct contrast to previous resolutions, in which funds were administered following a 40% in year one, 40% in year two and 20% in year three formula that was deemed appropriate as projects typically require big investments in equipment and reagents during the first years.

In the past, it has been possible for universities or the CSIC (the Spanish National Research Council) to advance some of the funds to awardees, but now these institutions have no money to put forward.

This delay and changed formula for administration of funds will have a devastating effect on the vast majority of active Spanish scientists. In addition, the manner in which this new ‘rule’ has been communicated, late and by surprise, has angered a community of researchers that has already been particularly hit by the economic woes that the country is suffering.

During the 30 years before the 2008 crisis, Spanish research and development productivity had been steadily increasing and gaining visibility in the international community. Young investigators who had gone abroad to do science were returning to Spain aided by new grants and programs. Innovative, cutting-edge Spanish science was no longer a dream but a reality.

Since 2009, the Spanish government has been cutting science budgets relatively more than other areas (average ministries are experiencing cuts of 16%). It is clear that these cuts threaten to undermine the ability of scientific institutes across the country to hire and retain talented personnel. While Spain continues to reduce its support for research, other European countries and the European Union are proposing to increase their investment in science.

The Spanish science secretary Carmen Vela has proposed that Spanish scientists focus ‘on innovation and quality over quantity’ and that private funding of science should increase. But if policymakers continue to take measures that result in more labs closing down and the fleeing of scientists, there will be no talented people left in Spain to drive the innovation that will guarantee a sustainable economy in the future.

Links to other news coverage and political reactions to this resolution

http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2013/01/24/actualidad/1359061061_171675.html

http://www.abc.es/espana/20130126/abci-gobierno-reduce-ayudas-ciencia-201301261848.html

http://www.izquierda-unida.es/node/11697

Erika Pastrana

Executive Editor, Nature Research Journals, Nature Research

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