Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Budget Cuts in EU?

Nobody can do research without money. Because researchers, like all other people, need to sleep (preferably somewhere dry and not too cold), to wear something (yes, really) and to eat something (not only chocolate, though it should be in there somewhere if you ask me). And all that needs some money.

If you are more or less involved in museums, archaeology research facilities or similar institutions, you will know that money is always scarce there. I remember being a student helper when I was still studying; we'd get paid for doing necessary preparatory work for papers such as taking and sorting slides, or helping when there was a conference. There was scarcely enough money to pay for the work that really needed to be done. Nobody doing a phd would have a chance of getting paid from the Uni - either you got funding somewhere else, or you were self-funded. You had a chance to get a work space (as in "a table") in one of the department's rooms, though they were limited, and you had to bring your own computer.

There's no law that says good research cannot be done with a low budget. But a low budget is severely limiting research in several ways: time, resources, possibilities, presentation.
Someone researching topic X with no money for it has to provide not only for the necessities of life, but also for the research. Books and articles are expensive, as are trips to libraries further away. All this has to be paid for - or our researcher has to do without. Time has to be spent on other, paid work. No funding also means little possibility to use newer analysis methods. And finally, no funding as in "you pay for going to that conference* all by yourself" means fewer possiblilties to exchange knowledge and experience with other researchers, limiting not only that one person's research, but also its impact. (Even worse when the conference has no funding and thus publication takes ages and ages and ages. Ask me how I know.)

Why am I writing all this? The next summit of the EU heads of states on 22-23 November 2012 will be a decisive step in determining the EU research budget for the next seven years. The conditions are not favorable: the financial crisis has put severe constraints on the national budgets and several countries, in particular the "net-payers", are demanding cuts on the total EU budget. Research and innovation will compete with other policy priorities.

Fourty-two Nobel Laureates and five Fields Medallists (something like Nobel, but for Maths folks) have written an open letter urging the EU to keep funding research. This has turned into a petition that you can sign here - and then join me in hoping this will be enough to keep the EU from cutting budget.

* The conferences are not as pricey as, say, medical conferences usually are - but still: you need to sleep somewhere, you need to eat something, you need to get there and back again, and pay the conference fee. Conferences (and I so love going to them) are one of the big spending points in my budget.

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