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back to article Science, engineering PhDs to drop by a third

The number of government-funded science and engineering PhDs will be reduced by a third by 2013 as cuts eat into scientific research. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) stumps up the cash for 10,900 PhD places, but will cut this figure to 7,000, a reduction of 36 per cent, the Head of the EPSRC told …

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Pirate

Fear the Reaper

Willetts reiterated his priorities for scientific research over the next few years: "Ageing ....

Wikipedia entry for David Willetts:

David Linsay Willetts (born 9 March 1956)....

Not that politicians ever do anything out of pure self interest, must just be a coincidence eh?

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Bronze badge

Surely ageing is an area of interest to all of us who have yet to finish doing it.

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Pint

What's up Doc?

Not a lot.

Quit my EPSRC funded PhD in chemistry in 2000 (end of 2nd year at a red brick uni) for a job in IT in the Investment Management industry for maybe 20-30x career earnings (compared a research career).

This country really doesn't like scientists very much. This cut will not be much help.

A beer for lost my 3rd year and "Dr" title.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes it seems money is preferred to science.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes...

It's amazing how many people will discount what engineers and scientists say, dismissing them as just in it for the money, or drunk on power or even (and worryingly commonly) that the PhD or Masters students, just don't know what they're talking about.

Engineering - Power stations, bridges, wind farms

Chemistry - Pharma research

Climate - Anything to do with climate change

Medicine - Anyone speaking out against 'alternative' medicine

Medicine - The vaccines that "give you XYZ" or the cancer treatment that everyone should have, dispite the cost benefit analysis.

etc...

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Meh

Good luck getting Industry to fund

At least from where I am sitting (Pharmaceutical R&D) the UK has been decimated in the recent years, so industry magically picking up the slack might be a bit of a stretch. Not sure where you can get those figures from though?

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Boffin

Really?

Don't we still have GlaxoSmithkline, one of the biggest Pharma companies, based in the UK? I know for a fact that they fund PhD studentships in Chemistry, in partnership with the BBSRC, as I was the recipient of one of those some years back, before I chucked in the PhD for a career in IT, principally because I didn't fancy a future spending 12 hours a day in front of a fume hood whilst earning £20k for my troubles.

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Linux

Could be good news, IF it means I get paid more :)

On a more serious note this isn't necessarily a bad thing I see a large proportion of PhD students leave science as soon as their thesis is finished.

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A significant proportion of PhD students leave science BEFORE their thesis is finished.

Trust me on this one...

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Facepalm

"leaving science"

I "left science" about six months after my viva. I now work for a spin-out company doing (rather sciency but nothing to do with my PhD) engineering.

One of the points of PhDs is to hone graduates' abilities. There were always more PhDs awarded than subsequent post-doctoral positions, so unless you believe that previously, doctors were finishing their degrees and then going to do unskilled work, then a reduction in the number of PhDs is very likely to be a Bad Thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Some of us are self funded on our PhD

We should emulate the Australian system where self-funded PhDs are 'free'.

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Holmes

Depends on the system.

In many systems, a "free" student is seen by the group or the leader as free indeed... Extra hands for undesirable jobs (marking and editing), with no strings attached to failure to complete -- no effort was placed into getting a grant and convincing committees with promises.

So (beyond personal decency) the student has no stick and few carrots, and dropout rates are extra high.

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FAIL

"David Willetts said that he hoped that key research would stay in the UK, but that the flow of students was two-way and that the UK benefitted from an influx of talented scientists."

He should have a chat with Theresa May about her visa restrictions on students ....

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Anonymous Coward

If you read the text you quote he didn't say "talented students", it was "talented scientists".

Which I infer means people who have actually left school and are contributing something back to society by getting a job and paying tax.

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Unhappy

The difference between R & D

Most of the milestones in science have come from "curiosity-driven research", and this is what universities and other public-funded bodies excel at.

"Industry partnerships" are typically interested in development rather than research. Usually where it can boost their bottom line.

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Wide vs Narrow.

Industry partnerships can fund a wide variety of subjects, but yes, they do need to improve their bottom line.

Where they've identified some research areas that can improve their profitability, they'll invest (and some of those are very unexpected).

Universities can afford to do more blue sky science, as there's far less importance on this research being profitable. Though from this, you find the odd one has commercial applications, and then industry picks it up and delves deeper.

Using the different focusses from different groups is the key. Relying only on one group or focus is a bad way to go.. Losing the wider scope is a problem.

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FAIL

Fact-based policy???? Not here !!

If there is one thing that in the past 20 years has consistently been shown to create jobs and wealth, that is technical innovation, strongly based on science & engineering backgrounds.

Politicians continue to set their priorities based on imaginary constructs, ideologies and wishful thinking (see Military Spending; War on Drugs; War on Terror etc etc ). Then, predictable as night follows day, it's not their fault that the economy is in ruins, social order is decaying etc etc

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Anonymous Coward

Don't forget "and the phds/post-docs fleeing like highly educated rats from a sinking ship"

Says one rat who fled to the continent for respect and a decent salary.

Science in the UK is too marred in politics, too underfunded and largely remains an old boys club.

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An ex PhD student of mine

and a very talented one at that, avoided applying for a job in the UK because the salary is a pittance compared to similar posts in many places in Europe. He is not in science for the money, but He does expect to make a decent living.

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Meh

That's what you get when you give the position of Minister for Science

to somebody with a degree in arguing and a career spent entirely in politics.

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big mistake

i am finishing my phd at the moment. it is the phd which does the majority of the work in the department, there are few post doc positions. they are seen as cheap labour and cash cows at the same time.

i believe academic output will fall by similar levels

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Anonymous Coward

A few points El Reg may want to investigate further

(1) A majority of "industrial partnership" PhDs consist of a baseline rate supplied by the EPSRC (currently £13300 ish) which is then 'topped up' by industry, typically to around £18k pa. This makes up the bulk of the EPSRC's PhD funding, hence any cut to total engineering PhD places is going to represent a direct cut to the industrial partnership PhDs. How do MPs hope to increase something that is being directly cut?

(2) The centers for doctoral training are still a new concept and as such have been given large sums of ring fenced funding as well as significant industrial buy in. They replace very individual PhDs with large cohorts (a PhD factory) producing 'what industry wants', often down to being able to use particular pieces of software.

That's great, but it isn't necessarily an environment that is going to produce good original research. Industry wants product development when PhDs should be doing blue sky research.

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Unhappy

Why not cut funding to the less useful degree courses, i.e. non science/engineering subjects like history and mickey mouse ones like media studies. Charge those more and redirect the cash into driving down fees to students doing subjects that are going to benefit the country, at both graduate and post-graduate level.

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Anonymous Coward

Ah...

Spoken like a trie arts-science divideist - The other lot aren't worth it, seems to be an argument from both "sides".

Personally I prefer to think of it as a critical thinking / non-critical thinking divide. I know a few Philosophy PhDs and some "get it" and others don't, just like scientists.

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This article is about PhD funding, rather than first degrees, and fewer of the PhDs on offer could be described as "mickey mouse". If you regard all arts and humanities PhDs to be mickey mouse (which I'd disagree with), then look at the numbers. AHRC fund most of the arts and humanities PhDs (with other funding coming from from private organisations). AHRC funding in 2010-2011 totals around £100m. EPSRC funding in the same period is £770m - therefore the cuts EPSRC are dealing with are actually more than the entire funding for the AHRC. If you add in the other science research councils (most of them are science or engineering), the funding for arts and humanities is already minuscule.

Arts and humanities funding is already so paltry, it is not worth looking looking at as a source of savings. You could, however, say the same thing about research funding as a whole: £2.5bn goes to the research councils each year. Compared to health, social services and defence, it is a drop in the ocean.

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Boffin

When you apply for PhD project funding

as I have done several times, you have to show what the impact will be in your own branch of science, in other fields of science, and preferably also in society (even in the distant future). If you cannot make a case for at least one of the latter two, it is much harder to get a grant. So instead of letting politicians decide which fields are deserving, why not let anyone apply who can make a good case for the usefulness of their research, whatever the field.

And please note that usefulness can include giving people better insight into sociology, history, art and literature as well. Not all "use" can be expressed in a currency which has an exchange rate with the euro/pound/US dollar you can look up on the net.

BTW, if anyone knows someone with a recent MSc in Computer Science, and is looking for a PhD position in Computer Vision, please direct them to

http://www.cs.rug.nl/~michael/HyperGAMMA

The position is still open.

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@Ben 2

> This article is about PhD funding, rather than first degrees

I appreciate that, and I referring to both pre and post grad study/research, they are connected in the overall scheme of things.

I have no problems at all with people studying whatever they want, however push comes to shove i'd rather that the available money was used in the most practical manner, to me this means ensuring our future engineering and scientific capability is up to scratch. If as a consequence other subjects were not as well funded then it is something we need to put up with.

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Anonymous Coward

@Vic 4

Science and engineering isn't everything (nb: I am an engineer, my partner is doing a science PhD) but it's important to remember that there is great benefit to society from many other subjects. Sociology, Psychology, Art, Media, Philosophy, etc, etc.

I guess that I think about unintended consequences when people say that "lesser subjects" should be stopped. If we don't have art in hospitals, people take longer to get better, is one off the top of my head.

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misunderstood again

I know they are not everything, just saying it may be better to prioritise things a bit better. I'm certainly not suggesting we withdraw all funding for arts/humanities. We have to make sure that cuts that are happening now are not going to screw us in the future when we don't have the knowledge to compete.

> If we don't have art in hospitals, people take longer to get better,

True, but if it was a choice between a picture painted by an art student or some gadget invented by an engineer to help diagnose someone I know what I would prefer.

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Anonymous Coward

Just want bums on factory machine seats

The Gov simply wants factory fodder and drones to work the shitty shifts in plants owned by companies the MPs sit on the boards of.

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Anonymous Coward

As oppsed to very old children with degrees in english or history (let alone the media studies crap) which prove nothing more than they can read & write.

Something that should have been established long before they could even apply to university!

I am of the opinuon that further education that does not have any tangable benefit to society should be classed as "Hobby Courses" and must be paid for by th people taking them.

Why should a guy/gal working, maybe rasing a family on average to low wages (the majority of the population) be paying taxes so others can doss around, getting drunk, and eventually get a bit of paper that means little more than they attended.

Only for those with useless degrees to get the same dead end job they could have started 4 years earlier, but without the debt.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Flame

EPSRC?

Egregious Pricks Slashing Research Capability.

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That's somewhat harsh

Considering the research councils get their funding set by central government. Personally, I see no problem with redirecting funding from the arts and humanities councils into the EPSRC (engineering and physical sciences), BBSRC (biology and biotechnology) and NERC (environmental stuff).

There may be a 'divide; between science and humanities in this country. However, we cannot afford to fall behind the rest of the world in science, it is one thing we have historically done well and it produces valuable long lasting results. As far as I can see it, we can afford to fall behind in arts and humanities.

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Re: That's somewhat harsh

Indeedy.

Try playing Cvilization with no science. Maybe that could be an instructive thing for the science minister to do...

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Gave up on it myself

About six months into it, I realized that much of it (at least in the US) was largely a scam, used to fund university administrators and politically-oriented professors in non-science departments. And I could make a lot more money, without the grant money insecurity, in business. And yes, the politics is WAY less in industry, in my experience. Whatever one says, the universities and government agencies deserve part of the blame for what they've wrought.

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Science and Technology Research Council??

Diamond synchrotron is run by the Science and Technology *Facilities* Council.

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PhD funding

"Not all science and engineering PhDs in the UK are funded by the EPSRC; many get money from industry partnerships"

Don't forget the BBSRC, MRC, NERC, and STFC! And, at a push, the ESRC. And also the Wellcome Trust, CRUK, Leverhulme... None of these are industrial.

Whilst it is sad that there are fewer PhD places for people, there are also very few research jobs post-PhD. Reducing the number of people wasting their life training to become researchers is probably a good idea.

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Facepalm

This is why...

Why would someone bust their ass doing a PhD? People have to eat and I find deplorable that people with Masters degrees and above end up living barely in middle class. Thats harsh after 10+ years of study.

I don't get why people get so worked up that people might expect to earn some money for their work. Does everybody work unpaid, pro bono positions? And by some money, I mean enough to retire comfortably with the same quality of life that you had when you were working.

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Anonymous Coward

No Science or Technology

The lack of Science and Technology is why this country lags behind the likes of Germany or Japan.

The Government want us all dumbed-down consumers, keeping their retail pals in caviar at the Gentleman's Clubs because the public think true happiness is having a branded phone, branded trainers, branded saloon car while aspiring to sing a song on TV or kick a ball about a field.

'Neva saw none scientist winnink the X-facta innit yea?'

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Arts and Humanities funding is not a pot of gold

Quote: Personally, I see no problem with redirecting funding from the arts and humanities councils into the EPSRC (engineering and physical sciences), BBSRC (biology and biotechnology) and NERC (environmental stuff).

Well, EPSRC alone receives over seven times the grant given to the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which was already cut back substantially by the previous govt before the current lot "ringfenced" (i.e. cut) the total non-medical research budget to maintain growth for medical research. But let's, for the sake of following your "argument", cut the AHRC budget to zero (by the way, AHRC funds a surprising amount of sciencey activities such as archaeology and corpus linguistics - but you may not see them as "proper" sciences, so we'll let that slide). Shared out among your list of research councils (let's add the STFC, who could certainly do with a few quid), we find the net effect is .. not much.

Doesn't seem like a huge benefit to the nation, whereas you've now given up much of your ability to research, teach and critically think about languages, history, culture and traditions, including your own, which (regardless of any value that has in its own right, which you are free to discount) is a reasonably profitable enterprise, as any English-language publisher, or any university that offers language instructions to the foreign students that prop up their numbers, will tell you. Since the govt. is also planning to break up the block teaching grant and forbid the cross-subsidisation that also supports laboratory subjects with low enrolments in not a few universities, your plan will certainly hurt the sciences rather more than help them.

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Unhappy

An edcuation doens't pay the bills..

... though it keeps most from starving, but apart from the rare exception, most people will not make that much out of their higher degrees. I used to resent being the only person with a Master from a Russell group university, and being near the bottom rung of the career ladder, until I met a chap with a PhD earning even less than I was.

.. and for those who got awful degrees, or non at all, they decided to get close to money and made loads as a result. I was fortunate enough to be related to one the latter, so managed to survive at least.

PhD. funding, yes, mostly gone. Private sector pay up? Yes, that's a fantasy that most right wing governments like to promote.

... and after all that, I am thinking of paying to do an IT based PhD, as early was next week, for the sake of knowledge. I don't expect to earn anything because of it. Oh yes I'm an IT grad, IT post grad, and had an IT career.

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Unhappy

UK going down in R&D

I'm dismayed at how the UK is going down in R&D. Its not just PhDs, latest research shows a 3rd of UK companies spend nothing on searching for new ideas, services and products. Only a fifth of UK companies spend more than 5% of their income on R&D. They say the UK is now ranked 18th in the world's innovation league.

Here's the details of the research. Unfortunately its depressing reading. :(

http://www.businesscloudnews.com/enterprise-20/557-uk-companies-failing-to-invest-in-innovation.html

The research shows the UK is certainly not trying enough to innovate its way out of the recession. :(

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Anonymous Coward

What are they doing about it?

The article only mentions the problem and not the solution.

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Learn German, move to Germany

Learn German, move to Germany... where they are increasing science research/education by 10% next year...

See

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2011/July/19071101.asp

for example...

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... more like "ring barking"

cutting science investment is like burning the furniture to stay warm - either you intend to take a massive future backward step in standard of living, or you believe that paying more in the future is worth the short-term relief.

Generally the ROI for research gives a nation a multiplied payback for the investment.

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Unhappy

Who will want to do a PhD when they have >£27k debt?

The point that worries me is that there will be very few people applying for UK PhD's when they already have interest on a >£27K loan ticking away after finishing their first degree.

With this cut in funding I think that the government is recognizing that there will be fewer applicants for however many places remain.

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Anonymous Coward

lossing boffins

I’m a NERC employee and we take all kinds of PhD funded students at our lab, NERC, EPSRC and BBSRC mainly. I don’t think our student numbers are down this year, but the research councils funding has been cut in real terms (ie frozen). Our main issue at the moment is the amount of boffins we’re losing, mainly to the US, Australia and New Zealand. We’ve lost several this year, across the board, post docs as well as established boffins.

We don’t respect boffins or engineers in this country and haven’t done for years.

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Anonymous Coward

It should be made law

that every minister must have a degree and experience in the area that they are minister of.

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