Monday, 18 October 2010

The approaching storm

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight,
Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.

The shot was taken in the morning (actually, at dawn as you may have guessed) with a large shower approaching but is it a sign of things to come? The UK government is set to announce the results of its comprehensive spending review (CSR) on Wednesday and it is not looking good for science. Peter Coles and Andy Lawrence have both been writing posts about this on their blogs, the latest are "Astronomy Cuts Rumour Mill" and "Place your bets". It is very difficult to predict the eventual outcome although I think most people expect the UK will have to give up something very big and prestigious and there's little doubt our current excellent reputation in science will be damaged - if it hasn't already.

The double whammy is the recent announcement by Her Majesty's Government that student fees for university tuition costs will no longer be capped and could rise as high as £12,000 per year, a sum simply unaffordable for most students. Although many in the US education system may argue that it's how higher education works in the US and it's just fine, families in the US know these costs ahead of time and often start saving for college education as soon as a child is born and of course wages in the US are generally higher making these costs a little more affordable. What do UK families do now when they find out next year a college education for their son or daughter is just too expensive?

Couple these two together: the very real possibility of a brain drain from the UK and unaffordable higher education, I suspect the UK is looking at a lost generation of talented scientists and engineers. Of course, those bankers who helped get us into this mess to start with will have their bonuses to spend on their children's education, so that's alright then.

On another note, the approaching storm picture might also be appropriate for another reason - there's a good chance the summit of Mauna Kea will experience its first snowfall of the season tonight. It's not likely to be heavy, maybe just a dusting and if it does happen will likely melt during the day. The summit webcams are a good place to watch the snow if it happens.

Changing times...


Andrew Cooper said...

Sitting on the summit. We have both telescopes for the first half night hoping to do engineering. Improvements to the interferometer that have been months in the planning and work to accomplish. Well after dark, the domes are still closed, fog and 100% humidity, with temperatures well below freezing.

Not good.

Zuzana said...

Tom, that is a beautiful, almost spiritual picture.;)
I know too well all the fund cuts in research and science, they occur in my world too.
Hope you are well, enjoy the first snow, they say a bit of white sleet should fall here too in mid week,

alice said...

If only our countries would cut their war budgets instead...

Tom said...

Andrew - hope you managed to get something done. It seems things cleared up second half of the night but perhaps a little too late for you guys?

Zuzana - no snow fell I'm afraid!

Alice - don't get me started! Actually, the cuts were nowhere near as bad as expected for science but the real financial situation won't be known for a couple of months or so since the money has still to be divided between the research councils and that's a whole different matter. The one that funds us, STFC, is probably the most at risk.