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University heads warn of a new scientific 'brain drain'

University vice-chancellors and the president of the Royal Society called on the Government yesterday to save British science from swingeing budget cuts, or risk a new "brain drain" of the best scientists.

Lord Rees of Ludlow and the leaders of six of the country's foremost universities warned that cutting the UK's science budget at a time when other countries were boosting theirs could leave Britain on the sidelines of global scientific research.

Sir Andy Haines, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "The Chinese investment in science technology will increase six-fold by 2020 and the US administration has just put $10bn [£6.3bn] into health research. We need to respond to that."

The heads of five other universities agreed, arguing that cuts in science would lead to irreversible damage and a loss of confidence and morale which would be difficult to restore.

Professor Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of Bath University, said: "If there is no long-term strategy to maintain a commitment to public funding for research, businesses may vote with their feet and relocate to countries where there is greater support."