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Budget Battle For Spanish Researchers

Funding: Online petition attracts more than 30,000 signatures in protest of proposed government R&D funding cuts and hiring freeze

by Sarah Everts
March 14, 2012

More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition that takes issue with the Spanish government’s plan to cut funding for science grants and to freeze the hiring of scientists.

Later this month, the Spanish government will vote on its 2012 budget, which includes sweeping cuts to reduce the national deficit. On the chopping table is the country’s R&D budget, which faces its third straight year of cuts.

In January, the government announced that the $11.1 billion R&D budget for 2011 would be reduced by $784 million—or nearly 9%—in 2012, but there were rumors that the cuts could be even more severe. Then, last week Carmen Vela Olmo, the Spanish secretary for science, told El País newspaper that thecuts to R&D are likely going to be $972 million.

Credit: Courtesy Carlos Andradas
Carlos Andradas, President of the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies
Credit: Courtesy Carlos Andradas

“The budget cuts currently being considered for R&D and innovation would cause grave long-term damage to the already weakened Spanish research system,” states the petition, which was written by several groups, including the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), and Spain’s Federation of Young Researchers.

“We needed to do something before the budget is approved,” says Carlos Andradas Heranz, COSCE president. “The main goal of the petition is to make a lot of noise in order to call the attention to the critical situation. We need to let the government know that this is really important, and we want to show the consensus among the many communities of researchers [in Spain].”

About 40% of Spain’s R&D budget forms the pool of money used for science grants, salaries and operating budgets at national research laboratories, and the fees to participate in international projects such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) or the European Space Agency, Andradas says. The remaining 60% of the R&D budget is for loans for science-based industry that are not accessible to public institutions, he adds.

Spain is currently under pressure from Eurozone finance ministers to adopt deeper cuts than the ones already proposed in the country’s initial budget.

“We can all agree that the deficit should be in control,” Andradas says. “But one should sit down and think about where one has to cut more and where one has to cut less—or not at all.”

Also at issue with the petitioning scientists is a hiring freeze planned across the civil service. In Spain, both national laboratory scientists and university professors are considered civil servants.

Credit: Courtesy of Amaya Moro-Martin
Amaya Moro-Martin, cosmologist at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid
Credit: Courtesy of Amaya Moro-Martin

This means that retiring staff are not being replaced and that early career scientists are limited to short-term contracts, says Amaya Moro-Martín, a cosmologist at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, who helped write the petition.

“A lot of early career scientists feel they need to leave Spain or leave research. That brain drain would be an incredible loss for the country,” she says.

Calls and e-mails to Olmo were not returned by C&EN’s deadline. She recently told El Pais that her office was going to maintain excellent science and researchers in the system, despite the budget cuts.

“If we don’t keep investing in science, we are condemned to be an underachiever,” says Emilio M. Pérez Alvarez, an organic chemist at the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies who signed the petition. “The question now is, ‘Do we want to be a holiday country for the next 50 years or do we want to catch up with other developed countries in Europe?’ ”


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