Save British Science will today (9 September) call for freedom and individuality to be allowed to flourish in the system of research funding.

In a talk to the Festival of Science in Salford, Dr Cotgreave, Director of SBS, will argue that Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Mendel would probably all fail to get research funding if they worked in the UK today.

“Newton took 15 years to write his first major book; Darwin spent ages doing tedious descriptive work on barnacles; Einstein’s work was so whacky that a committee would have foreseen little probability of it turning out to be right; and, as a monk, Mendel was hardly part of a group with a “relevant track record.

“I’m quite certain that all of these things would have caused the grant-giving bodies to turn down their applications if these great scientists applied for funding today,” said Peter Cotgreave. “How could Mendel have a relevant track record in genetics when the subject didn’t even exist until he virtually invented it.

“In the past the ‘dual support’ system of research funding meant the universities got some unencumbered money to invest in new ideas, on slightly off-beat things that did not fit with the establishment’s view of the world. These are the breakthroughs that really matter, in terms of inventing new products and processes to keep the economy buoyant.

“But funding mechanisms have become so skewed, that this discretionary funding has been almost completely abolished. The results are obvious. The number of scientific Nobel Prizes won by people working in the UK’s universities has been slashed by 90% since the 1950s and 1960s.”

“If this short-sighted approach carries on, the UK economy is going to suffer drastically.”

“It’s a great shame, because there is a lot of new money going into British science, and we want to see it deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. But the scope for such benefits is limited while researchers cannot take the risk of doing something really creative”.

Peter Cotgreave’s talk The Importance of Individuality in Research will be at 15.45 on 9 September in the Clifford Whitworth Building at the University of Salford.

Funding proposals will cheat science and engineering of £22 million

Save British Science today berated the Government for its crazy proposals to change the way university teaching is funded next year.

“These proposals will move about £22 million out of university science departments,” said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, “and we just can’t understand how a government that talks about the importance of science education in a knowledge economy could come up with such a daft idea.”

Under the proposals, money allocated to the teaching of some subjects, such as chemical engineering and physics will rise slightly, but these rises will be far outweighed by the losses suffered by other science and engineering disciplines, including biology and electronic engineering. The average university will lose hundreds of thousands of pounds from its overall budget for teaching the three core sciences and the various engineering disciplines.

“The real problem is that the Government sets the budget without reference to the demand it makes on the universities,” said Peter Cotgreave. “It insists that universities must take more students, increase access, do more and better research, and so on, but doesn’t actually work out how much this will all cost, and then allocate funding streams accordingly.”

“Making fairly arbitrary changes to the relative funding for different subjects, a year or two before the whole system will have to be re-organised because of top-up fees, isn’t suddenly going to stop the available money having to be spread very thinly”.

“If the budget is insufficient to fund what is expected of it, it is pointless for the Government to persist in an Alice-in-Wonderland denial that somehow by fiddling the sums, the money can magically be spread in different ways that will defy the laws of mathematics”.


Azerbaijan’s Groundswell of Civil Society Dedicated to the country of Azerbaijan, this issue of Give & Take illustrates the shortcomings of the term “post-Soviet” eleven years after the end of the Cold War.

In a world well into a “post-9/11” multilateral, international realignment, how accurate is the backward-looking post-Soviet label?

True, Azerbaijan continues to be plagued by the polluting industry and severe economic doldrums common to many former Soviet states. Its people still suffer from corrupt bureaucrats, limited opportunities, and in some cases well-learned, wrong-headed ideas that stifle growth, namely that governments, not people, call the shots, that it is government’s job to solve the problems of society and that government has no obligation to respond to citizen demands for equity and justice. Yet to see nothing but such post-Soviet characteristics in Azerbaijan is to miss the very real changes that have taken place in the country since 1991.

The Winter 2003 issue Give & Take highlights just a few of the new citizen groups in Azerbaijan whose actions demonstrate the power of the individual to stand up to government and make a difference. The first section of the journal looks at issues such as how to found and register a nongovernmental organization (NGO) — a difficult, frustrating process, as detailed by ISAR-Azerbaijan director Stephanie Rust. Nevertheless, hundreds of local groups have registered and begun to operate throughout the country despite these challenges.

azmapIn the second section of the journal, with the help of ISAR-Azerbaijan staffers Elmira Abdullayeva and Nargiz Kerimova, we spotlight the impressive work of a few of these NGOs. Many are now quite experienced and they tackle an incredible range of issues — from diabetes education to professional development for beekeepers. Some NGOs focus on the children of refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan’s many refugee camps such as the Galkhan camp in Saatly, Azerbaijan. This story describes innovative approaches to the intractable problem of raising the children of war.

Research for this issue of the journal uncovered an extremely diverse NGO sector. Many local groups — their accomplishments largely unsung in the West — have done tremendous work with tiny sums of money. Those highlighted here represent only the tip of the iceberg: last year ISAR-Azerbaijan’s local NGO directory detailed the work of over 400 grassroots NGOs throughout the country, not just in Baku and other major cities. All of them are operating effectively in a region where international assistance is sparse and local philanthropy largely undeveloped. All have demonstrated creativity in fundraising and enthusiasm in responding to social injustice.

Organizing for change means forming coalitions. Cooperation to influence legislation — as Margo Squire, Azerbaijan country director for the Eurasia Foundation, notes in her article — is crucial. NGOs are also cooperating to advocate for environmental and social issues. For instance, as explored in the final section of the journal, activists have added their voices to the debate over the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. When completed in 2004, BTC will transport Caspian oil and gas to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean Sea. Give & Take presents several of the perspectives in this debate, including those of an oil company executive, the government of Azerbaijan, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and multiple NGO viewpoints.

The complexities of globalization force us all to delve deeper: what happens locally when governments, international financial institutions, and transnational corporations get behind giant commercial development projects? Big projects affect small communities, and these communities must be given their say. Give & Take attempts to draw attention to such independent voices and include them in the wider dialogue. The dominance of the oil industry in Azerbaijan’s economy continues to increase. Svetlana Tsalik of the Open Society Institute asserts in her article that some portion of the revenues must be used to improve the conditions of Azerbaijan’s people; her article, which has been abstracted from a forthcoming book, offers concrete recommendations for using oil production profits to achieve social reform.

As such stories show, the “post-Soviet” label becomes daily less successful as a term for describing Azerbaijan. In 2003, Azerbaijan must be examined in the light of a whole range of new dynamics. The oil industry, with its millions of dollars in investments and powerful international partners, is far more visible than those who practice grassroots civil society development, but the efforts of the local NGOs have an endemic strength that is all their own. It is this force that in the end will free this country and its people from the cramped post-Soviet stereotype and offer them a more solid path to the future.

Political Activists in Kazakhstan Vulnerable After Nuclear Waste Victory

Kazakhstan’s fledgling grassroots opposition movement, which succeeded earlier this year in blocking a government plan to import nuclear waste into the country, now faces a host of challenges and is calling for continued guidance from the West to help protect civil rights and promote democracy. Activist Kaisha Atakhanova told a recent RFE/RL briefing audience that “we are more aware of what is happening in our country, but have little experience protecting our rights.”

Atakhanova, the founder and director of the Kazakh environmental group EcoCenter, described how an informal coalition of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community groups used public hearings and petitions to pressure the Kazakh government to give up its plans to import and store nuclear waste from countries such as Taiwan and South Korea. The stated goal of the project, rejected by Atakhanova, was to generate the money needed to help Kazakhstan deal with its own nuclear waste problem — 237 million tons of waste, the most dangerous of which was generated at the soon-to-be-closed BN-350 nuclear breeder reactor at Aqtau and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.

Atakhanova said that special interest lobbying, media campaigns, and government interference are all being used to try to limit the effectiveness of NGOs. “The main goal of nuclear lobbyists in Kazakhstan is to weaken NGOs and stop citizens from organizing against the government in general,” she said. In addition, the government has proposed new laws that would force foreign NGOs to register locally in order to gain legal status. Atakhanova said that the proposed law lacks a clear definition of what an NGO is and opens the door for organizations to be divided into “convenient and inconvenient” NGOs. She added that some Kazakh officials have tried to discredit NGOs by saying those supported with Western funding are tools of foreign special interests. “We are about to face serious challenges [from the government],” she said. “Those who remain non-political will most likely be allowed to function.”

Despite the recent grassroots success, Atakhanova said that nuclear tensions remain and that the import of nuclear waste into Kazakhstan was likely postponed rather than cancelled. Atakhanova said that monitoring groups do not have the resources to monitor the decommissioning of the Aqtau reactor. “We are not economically, politically or technically prepared for this,” she said.

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