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Review of Financial Year 2004/2005

The principal objectives for 2004/2005 were to:

The key additional task for the year was to widen the Observatory's access to research development funds and to lay a strong foundation for the forthcoming Research Assessment Exercise benchmark. This was to involve working with the DCAL not just to provide an adequate level of core funding for astronomical research, but also to obtain the further funds necessary for the recruitment of additional research staff and to maintain and improve the Observatory's access to high-quality research infrastructure.

In the event, it is unfortunate to record that no additional funding could be obtained for new staff positions during the reporting year, and the first six-months' budget settlement for 2004/2005 was the worst for many years. Nevertheless, there remains a strong argument both to maintain the level of core funding in real terms and to provide the Observatory with additional research development funds.

First, the Observatory has participated in the RAE for more than a decade, but has never benefited from access to the performance related additional funding enjoyed by comparable research groups in the university sector. Indeed, the Observatory's position in this respect is doubly difficult, as owing to its small size there are very limited opportunities to transfer resources within the organization, and this is not helped by further clipping the institution's wings. The Department's inability to provide a stable level of core funding and additional research development funds puts the Armagh Observatory at a considerable disadvantage so far as expansion and strategic planning is concerned.

Additional research staff would give the Observatory an opportunity to broaden the scope of its present research. They would also provide capacity to respond more flexibly to new research funding opportunities, thereby enhancing the organization's ability to lever additional research income from the UK Research Councils and other grant-awarding bodies, attracting additional research income into Northern Ireland and further increasing the Observatory's output. Additional research development funds would allow the Observatory to operate more effectively in an extremely competitive third-level research sector.

It is noteworthy that in recent years the Observatory has attracted substantial external funding per unit of DCAL grant-in-aid, currently averaging more than £250,000 per year, and has closely met or exceeded essentially all the performance targets set in the previous year, all of which are on ascending or stable trajectories. It is extremely difficult to maintain this performance, and associated staff morale, in a situation where good performance is not rewarded.

In addition to the above principal objectives, the Observatory has continued to play an influential role in the community, for example through its high-level involvement in bodies such as the Astronomical Science Group of Ireland (ASGI) and in helping to organize the first joint meeting between the ASGI and the Institute of Physics in Ireland, held in Armagh from 1-4 April 2004, the largest astronomy meeting ever held in the City. The Observatory also plays a leading role in promoting the public awareness of astronomy and related sciences, especially through talks and public lectures, the release of media information sheets about its work, the appearance of staff or their work in various mass-media, and the provision of information through web-pages and links displayed on the Observatory's principal web-site (http://star.arm.ac.uk/). The Observatory's commitment to the Southern African Large Telescope project has continued with the support of the DCAL, and the largely HLF and DCAL-funded project to restore the historic telescopes and telescope domes has progressed satisfactorily.



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