Government cuts to science funding could lead to a brain-drain of talent from Britain, warned Lord Krebs, chairman of the Lords science and technology committee. The spending review due to be announced later this month on October 20th, may mark a turning point in our countries ability to attract and retain some of the best talent around the world. The science community will feel particularly let down by the new coalition government if the cuts do come to pass.

Six university vice-chancellors all claim a brain drain is on the way for the UK if funding is pulled. A knock on effect to the already depressed UK economy is inevitable. Lord Krebs claimed “we're about the same level as Slovakia”.

What so many parties fail to understand is, research and development is the foundation to good job opportunities and fruitful economies, if you cut the funding it is like cutting the roots to your garden plants.

I can just about remember the days back when I was completing my PhD; I and all of my colleagues graduating at the same time were faced with a significant number of offers from leading US universities versus home grown; now this is going back some 10 years – What is saddening, is that research and I feel the scientific community as a whole is still seen as the soft option, when the going gets tough the first thing to cut is science funding.

I fear we have been hemorrhaging talent for many years and will continue to do so as the effects of this drain in skills kick-in and the blame ultimately laid at someone elses door.

An exodus on the scale of the one being reported now has implications for all our existing and future scientists; it will make their lives that much more challenging to sustain and develop in to the future, especially if they want to pursue a career in any kind of research, be it academic or industrial, the effects of the cuts are real and do impact on our lives now.

There are arguments that say a brain drain may increase productivity of a developing country which is effectively what we will become. The idea is that the siphoning off of talent will lead to an increase in “human capital formation” which may then outweigh the negative effects of the brain drain itself.

Suffice to say I still need to be convinced by this theory.

What I feel we are witnessing here is the potential game changing scenario where the UK becomes an emerging market in terms of its scientific and wider picture – economic clout. Lord Krebbs concluded: “The government might do well to ask why other countries are choosing to increase their investment whilst we're talking about cutting.”

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(10)70168-1