Science research cuts could lead to a loss of future growth and jobs
Science research cuts could lead to a loss of future growth and jobs Reuters

As the world gears up for the Nobel Prize awards, the annual celebration of mankind's greatest achievements in science, cuts to research budgets risk impeding our future growth.

Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic find they are increasingly having to fight for a portion of shrinking research budgets, putting crucial research on hold, restricting the field of exploration and otherwise warping intellectual discoveries.

Scientists are not immune from the general economic malaise that has gripped the economies of Europe and North America. However, investment in technology is as crucial to nations' long-term fiscal health as fiscal prudence in other areas.

In the US, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending will result in drastic reductions in funding for basic scientific research that some estimate will cost the economy $203 billion (£130.9bn) in reduced GDP over the next nine years, and 200,000 fewer jobs.

The federal agency responsible for biomedical and health-related research saw its budget cut by 5% to $29.15 billion (£18.3bn) in 2013.This means the agency will award 1,357 fewer grants, from a total of 34,902. Former NIH director Dr Elias Zerhouni has warned that the sequester will "maim our innovation capabilities" for generations, starve promising labs of resources and dissuade young scientists.

A vocal campaign by European scientists saved the European Union research budget from savage cuts, with a last-minute addition to the budget agreement that funds for Horizon 2020, the name for the bloc's overall research program, will represent "a real growth compared to 2013 level" The €80 billion (£68.4bn) budget covers the years 2014 to 2020 and is intended to drive to create new growth and jobs in Europe.

However, doubts have been cast about leaders' ability to meet that goal given the cuts to many national research budgets, particularly in southern Europe, and the fact that government spending on energy, technology and infrastructure - all of which have direct links to investment and economic growth - are under pressure.

Greater funding and support could lead to innovations on the digital stage for Europe.
Greater funding and support could lead to innovations on the digital stage for Europe.

As a European scientist, I would like to think that Nobel winners in coming years will still come from Europe, but our competitors in Asia and other parts of the world are not stinting on research spending. If we don't keep up, our scientists will fall behind, or move to parts of the world where there is funding.

Some people say scientists should do more with less. I say we should always strive to do more, but we should aim to maximise research spending because of the dividends it reaps in terms of future growth.

I would therefore urge governments to protect science budgets where they can. However, they are not the only source of potential research funding. Industry too, has its role to play. Technology Academy Finland, the organisation I represent, exists partly to encourage links between governmental institutions, industry and the scientific community, and much of my career has been about bridging the gap between industry and science.

In Finland, we are among the biggest spenders on research and development: among OECD countries, only Israel spends more. There are strong links between industry and science in my country, and much public research is funded by industry.

To maximise outputs, we should encourage more of this. We should also look to Europe and harness cross border efforts both in terms of scientific collaboration, but also in the opening of our markets.

One of the most promising sources of future growth and jobs is the internet economy, which the Boston Consulting Group estimates contribute $4.2 trillion (£2.7 tn) to the G-20's total GDP by 2016. Yet in Europe, we lack a single market in digital services. This is the prime reason that most innovations in Europe are not happening here but elsewhere.

So, yes, let's be smarter. But let's also remember that innovation is the source of future prosperity. Let's make sure we don't starve it of funds.

Dr Juha Ylä-Jääski is the CEO of Technology Academy Finland (TAF), an independent foundation established to promote scientific research and technologies that support sustainable development. He was director of innovation issues at the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries for eight years and was head of strategy planning at the Nokia Research Centre, looking at solid state physics and medical analysis. TAF awards the biennial Millennium Technology Prize