Cumulating R&D cuts does not bode well for the future of Spain

For the fourth consecutive year, resources allocated by the Spanish Government to R&D have been reduced. To assess its real impact, we need a detailed analysis. However, facts already speak for themselves. The 2013 annual budget approved by the Spanish Parliament reveals the government’s actual policy regarding R&D. To say the least, it is not always in line with politicians’ statements in the media. We outline below the conclusions from a study on the Spanish R&D policy commissioned by COSCE, the confederation of Spanish scientific societies.

Research funding for 2013 has been reduced by 461.37 M€, which represents 7.22% of the 2012 R&D budget. The economic crisis seems to be leading to an overall budget decrease to which research funding is not immune. This contrasts with the public statements by politicians, stressing that R&D and innovation are the way to lead the country to recovery, in the long run.

Neither after the budget was presented to Parliament nor after its approval, did the government explain its funding cut policy. Therefore, we base our analysis merely on the data coming from the R&D budget available on the Ministry of Finance’s website. We adopt a detached and scientific analysis of the budget, disregarding any public statement that these reductions were only temporary, as claimed in previous years. Even the figures themselves have to be interpreted with some caution. Indeed, in recent years, global R&S figures were in practice presented in a way that was hiding large resources cuts.

Dissecting Spanish R&D budget reduction

Figures tend to speak for themselves, but in going from the general to the specific, it will be necessary at each step to carefully interpret what they really mean. Starting with the global data, so-called ‘non financial funds’, i.e. subsidies, were affected by more than 80% of the total budget reduction with a 13.9% cut. By comparison, funds dedicated to loans, referred to as ‘financial funds’, mainly allocated for research by companies, only decreased by 2.53% with respect to 2012 figure.

Irrespective of the main reduction in 2012 having been made on funds that were not spent in previous years, figures show that the available funds are significantly lower. This shows the importance of performing a detailed analysis beyond global figures.

These cuts have a direct impact on an area that, it is worth noting, has been experiencing considerable growth during the last few years. Looking at the sector in terms of size by analysing the number of researchers, we found that the average budget per researcher has dropped from 31.95 K€ in 2002 to 22.56 K€ in 2013, with a maximum of 41.07 K€ in 2009.

Looking at the specific ratio of the non financial budget versus researchers from the public sector — which excludes the private sector– the rate also dropped from 26.21 K€ in 2001 to 16.22 K€ in 2013. It has reached its maximum with 33.02 K€ in 2008. It has been reduced by more than half in the last four years.

All of these cuts are taking place despite the effort made over the previous years to support the development of a research sector and enhance the quality of Spanish research. Clearly, the quality of Spanish scientists is recognised internationally, as shown by the large number of Spanish researchers successful in laboratories around the world. Unfortunately, under the current policy, Spain may become a country poor in Science.

Financial versus non-financial support cuts in research programmes

The imbalance of the change in the financial and non-financial parts of the budgets has led us to a separate analysis of these funds allocated to each Ministry and to each research program. Reductions in most Ministries fall on non-financial funds, being cut by more than 10%. They are especially severe in the Ministry of Defence. As a result, it has affected its two public research bodies. These cuts are also severe in education and translate as half of the reduction being imposed on allocations for pre-doctoral grants. The Ministry of Industry is special case, bearing a 37.25% reduction on financial funds. Finally, at the Ministry of Economy, non-financial funds are reduced by 14.24% though financial ones increase by 19.36%.

In parallel, all of the research programs, except the Program for Innovation in Telecommunications, have seen a reduction in their non-financial funds. This reduction is particularly acute in the Program for the Promotion of Scientific and Technical Research. It brings together research funds for projects, contributions to international organisations, the most important research training programs and the support for the establishment of scientific infrastructure. The program lost almost 155 M€, representing about 23.4% of the funds available in 2012. However, this program sees its financial funds increased by more than 174 M€, a 23.9% increase compared to 2012.

Focusing on the most important R&D activities support, reductions in this area may lead these activities to reach to near-critical situations, as is the case of some research organisations. For example, in relation to research funds, the International Fund does not change but the Strategic Infrastructure Fund, launched in 2008, disappears as such. Meanwhile, the funding of infrastructures already created continues with direct subsidies. The National Fund, which feeds the calls for research projects and major activities of the National Research Plan, loses 20%, all taken from funds made available to Governments from Spain’s regions.

Target for cuts: public research organisations and scientists training

In addition to cuts in research programmes outlined above, the second key sector affected by cuts is that of public research organisations. Their budget has been affected by a 7.73% reduction. Overall reductions are not high because many of the centres are not large, but for some of them these cuts may be critical and jeopardise their existence. For example, the Aerospace Technology Institute (INTA), under the Ministry of Defence, has seen its funding cut by 12,4 M€, a 13,5% decrease, which accumulates with previous cuts. This will have a profound impact on the technological services provided to its industry partners. Another example is that of the Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII) , which manages the Health Research Fund for health research projects and clinical activities. Its budget has been cut by 13.5 M€. The most serious case appears to be the research council CSIC, the higher council for scientific research . In the 2013 budget it lost 66 M€, representing a cut by 9.94% compared to 2012, according to official public figures.

The third key sector where cuts have been imposed is the training of new researchers. The reduction has focused on one of the two existing funds and represents a 7.18% decrease in total. But the real impact is much greater: this reduction is added to that of the previous three years. It is also worth noting that the number of people who can actually be trained is much lower due to the recent obligation to replace scholarships by mere contracts, incurring a much higher cost per researcher.

Concealing the overall cut, by cumulating a series of smaller cuts

To understand the real impact of these cuts, we need to enter the next level of detail. In particular, we ought to examine the change between 2012 and 2013 in each item and look at its specific impact. By doing that in the most important programs we may assess the actual extent of the cuts in non-financial funds. First of all, it is worth noting that there are many items that retain exactly their 2012 endowment—21 out of 61—which indicates the effort to maintain the activity to some extent.

However, the way cuts in R&D is calculated conceals further cuts. For example, a particular type of cuts including some parts of the staff costs, of goods and services and investment of some administrative units of the Ministry of Economy that were included in 2012, are no longer considered as R&D expenses. This involves reducing the R&D budget by nearly 65 M€, without officially affecting the funding of research activities. If we add about 55 M€ in cuts in the CSIC budget to these 65 M €, we estimate the actual reduction in R&D public funding to amount to about 340 M€, -5.32% of 2012 R&D budget. This is without accounting for revenues that were included in previous years but are not financed by the national budget.

Another example where a deeper analysis reveals the level of window dressing happening in cuts calculation is the significant increase in financial funds of theh Industrial Research and Technological Development program. It is due to reconduct the same level of capital contribution to the CDTI (Centre for Industrial Technological Development) as what had been removed by 2012. It is in some way a balancing act, returning to the level of funding prior to when cuts were imposed.

These examples demonstrate that it is not enough to focus on the top level numbers. A detailed analysis is required to do a more accurate assessment. Although the amount of the reduction is not so important in some cases, it is still very serious because of the cumulative effect of previous years on the national R&D system. Thus, leaving the R&D system in Spain in a critical situation, which we hope is not irreversible.

An austerity policy out of control

Finally, we would like to make some more general observations about the Budget´s main philosophy. While retaining investments in major compromised new research facilities, the budget neglects large well-established organisations that support other infrastructures already in place.

What is more, the budget seems be mainly made on the basis of economic criteria, regardless of the role that R&D has on future development. This reveals a lack of strategic and long-term vision, compared to other countries in which the strategic activities with long-term investments are maintained at all cost.

There is a serious contradiction between public statements about this budget and its reality. It seems to go completely in the opposite direction of what was established in the “Spanish Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2013-2020,” circulated in draft format among stakeholders for comments in October 2012 and only recently published.


We are aware that the science funding issue is now a serious problem in Spain but also that science has other serious problems. Current Spanish scientific policy is not focused on a long-term action, nor does it have a future perspective. It should not be subject to short-term political debate but be designed and maintained in line with national interest.

Science needs a governance system—an administrative legal framework—appropriate to the research mission and what it is intended and required to do. This framework should promote science to lead to social and economic improvement, rather than stopping it. This would mean that funds are not an expense but an investment.

Summing up, science must be integrated into a country’s general policy, linking it to general as well as concrete national policies.

This is what we ask for.

José de No, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas – CAR (CSIC-UPM)

José Molero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Acknowledgement: This contribution is based on the main findings of the report entitled Análisis de los recursos destinados a I+D+i (Política de Gasto 46) contenidos en el Proyecto de Presupuestos Generales del Estado para el año 2013, for the Confederación de Sociedades Científicas de España (COSCE).

Featured image credit: CC BY 2.0 by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Go back to the Special Issue: Research Austerity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.