In an unsurprising move, Vince Cable has been softening up the sector today for cuts to the Science budget in the forthcoming spending review. In a speech at Queen Mary's, he will repeat his 'do more with less' mantra, saying that 'we need a wide spectrum of research activity,' but that we need 'a process of selection and choice' rather than 'shav[ing] a bit off everything'
But how should this be done? 'My preference is to ration research funding by excellence and back research teams of international quality - and screen out mediocrity – regardless of where they are and what they do.'
Despite the underlying current of cuts, this is in some ways good news. Cable seems to be going with Hefce's policy at the last RAE - that the Government funds excellent research wherever it's found - rather than concentrating on a clutch of a few, predominantly Russell Group universities, which was the suggestion earlier in the year.
Beyond that, it's all a bit ill-defined. Worryingly, although he says that he supports blue skies research, it's only if it's 'commercially useful [or] theoretically outstanding.' He goes on to wax lyrical about 'transforming research into innovation', 'spin out companies' and 'overseas investors.'
So the message is inevitably a curate's egg in these choppy economic times. We'll back quality research, he's saying, but we're going to expect you to do more with it.