Research in Spain has also been greatly affected by the crisis. The austerity measures and the widespread cuts to public spending, both by the central Government and by regional authorities, have led to a reduction in budgetary spending on research and development (R&D), higher education and health, areas which create and disseminate knowledge. The data below provide some examples of this.
Since the beginning of the crisis, R&D spending has fallen back to 2008 levels. In 2011 it was 14,184,295,000 euros, while in 2008 it reached 14,701,393,000 euros. In terms of GDP, domestic spending on R&D represented 1.35% in 2008 and 1.33% in 2011, far short of the mythical 3%, that coveted figure we have been promised for so long. In Catalonia things are a little better (or not as bad), with 1.55% of Catalonia’s GDP going to R&D in 2011, although in 2008 the figure was 1.62%. To give a comparison, in the Basque Country R&D spending was 2.15% of the GDP in 2011 compared to 1.98% in 2008.
These cuts may have huge consequences for the future of our economy. We all know that investment in research bears fruits in the long term and requires the implementation of firm, sustained policies by the country’s leaders. But recently, these conditions have not been met. Some years ago (especially during Zapatero’s first term) the policy implemented was one of projects designed to impress – large investments in research infrastructures (not in the remuneration of researchers in public centres) which involved opening centres left and right, many of them “designer centres”, under the principle that everyone should have a slice of the cake. But the creation of large infrastructures (with very high initial investments over a short period of time) involves a regular budget for maintenance, staff salaries, etc. And we have now changed to a policy of cutting current expenditure budgets, which means that many centres are no longer viable.
Higher education, i.e. universities, which represent around 28% of the State’s domestic expenditure on R&D and 0.38% of the GDP, have also been affected by budget cuts. These cutbacks have focused, firstly, on loans and funds that have no legally established purpose such as competitive funds for financing R&D projects, resources earmarked for funding training programmes, temporary contracts and work placements for researchers, and programmes for supporting scientific infrastructures and centres of excellence. Secondly, many university science parks and research centres were funded by soft loans from the Spanish Government during the first decade of the 21st century, with three-year exclusion periods, to be paid back in “convenient” yearly instalments over the following fifteen years. But it was a case of feast today, famine tomorrow, as many universities are no longer able to keep up with their annual payment commitments, which total millions of euros, and are postponing them with the subsequent financial charges.
The outlook is worrying, and a remedy must be found to steer things in a better direction. Otherwise, our best researchers will end up leaving the country (something that is already occurring), and furthermore we will be unable to attract new research talent. On top of all this, the number of PhD students, the future human capital of research, is plummeting. And the 40% reduction in public investment over the last two years could have devastating effects in the medium term, even though we may not notice them at present.
This combination of factors may well be explosive. It could lead to a drastic fall in our international standing that would set us back to far behind the position we were in when the first Spanish Science Law was passed, because meanwhile dozens of countries such as China, India, Singapore, Brazil, Chile and Malaysia will have overtaken us. But it’s not all bad news. Brussels has announced that the R&D budgets for the six-year period from 2014-2020 will increase from 53 billion euros (2007-2013 programme) to 79 billion euros. Let’s hope we have enough talent in our research centres to access them!
Academic Manager, Continuing Education Institute Private Foundation. Director of the MSc in Management, Barcelona School of Management