Thursday, April 10, 2008

UK Astronomy Under Threat

My first project as a Ph.D. candidate was to analyze NGC 6940, a galactic cluster, for transit events. The cluster was observed from the Isaac Newton Group (ING) of telescopes at La Palma in the Canary Islands. It is a popular destination for British astronomers, because it was fairly easily accessible and the telescopes are British-funded.

Now, it seems that ING and several other UK astronomy projects are threatened by funding cuts. It is a real shame, but I think American astronomers should follow this closely. However tight US scientists think their budgets are, it can be more difficult elsewhere. Brits don't even have the anti-science sentiment that can be found around the US. Instead, this reduction in resources is simply a budget crunch. The research councils, including the STFC, which funds astronomy, are funded by the UK government, and there simply isn't enough money to go around.

In the US, students have rightly complained that higher education costs have increased 5-8% annually, but when public funds don't keep pace with education and research, tuition costs (and to a much smaller extent, private fundraising) have to fill the gap. The UK education system has only recently allowed tuition fees, and those aren't even allowed in some places, so instead you have the situation where good science is shuttered, and projects are canceled.

What a shame.

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