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Coming soon: the public sector science exodus

November 25, 2011

Forensics is not the only public science service that may see an exodus of experts.

That’s according to Prospect, the professionals’ trade union that includes among its members 80,000 scientists. The union says that many publicly funded researchers and scientists are weighing up the rising cost of living, the public sector pay freeze and soaring pension contributions, and they are coming down on the realisation that it makes more sense to quit research altogether.

“Public science is not that highly paid anyway,” notes Sue Ferns, Prospect’s head of research, “and there is some evidence that people are thinking of moving out of it because of that. It’s anecdotal evidence only. But you can’t ignore it.”

We already know about the dissolution of the Forensics Science Service, which Ferns claims will eliminate the jobs of 2,000 people, 70 per cent of whom will go on to leave forensics permanently. This exodus is forced by the government, which decided to wind down the FSS and rely solely on the private sector. But Ferns fears for a much wider exodus from science caused by the economic crisis.

“My fear – and I hope this is not a prediction – is that were going back to the 1980s, where we’ve got underfunding in the public sector (and) capital budgets are being really badly affected,” she told PST, adding her worry that the quality of the facilities the nation has invested in will be “eroded”. “The quality of research facilities will decline. We’ll see more people getting fed up and moving out.”

Denise Syndercombe-Court has previously told PST that the full privatisation of the forensics service will mean the loss of many experts who will turn away from their field. And Ferns notes that shedding specialist skills is particularly pernicious. “You don’t notice it immediately – next time we get an epidemic, those skills won’t be there. So I fear general deterioration in the research infrastructure can weaken the UK’s capability.”

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