​Hawking warns gifted disabled scientists could be left without financial support

Stephen Hawking (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett)
World-renowned physicist and author Stephen Hawking has expressed concerns over imminent cuts in funding for talented academics with serious medical conditions that could harm their progress in research.

“I wonder whether a young ambitious academic, with my kind of severe condition now, would find the same generosity and support in much of higher education,” Hawking said at a dinner that marked his 50th year as a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge.

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“Even with the best goodwill, would the money still be there? I fear not,” the 73-year-old professor added.

Suffering from progressing motor neurone disease (MND), he received support from the college. Hawking said that “Caius [college] gave me a home, literally and figuratively, and is a constant thread running through my life.”

“That fellowship [that Hawking received in 1965] was a turning point in my life, as the college made sure I could continue my research, despite my increasing disability.”

The college's master, Alan Fersht, replied to the words of Hawking, saying “Stephen questioned whether a young academic in his condition would get the same level of support today? For Caius at least, I can say emphatically 'yes'. The fellowship is a family, just as our students, our staff and our alumni are all parts of the Caian family.”

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Fersht went on to say: “In 1965, none of us dreamt that we would be here, 50 years on, to celebrate this day. I say none, but I suspect I actually mean ‘all, but one’.”

Back in 2008, Hawking warned that £80m ($122m) of grant cuts could put Britain’s position in the international scientific community under threat. He said, “These grants are the lifeblood of our research effort; cutting them will hurt young researchers and cause enormous damage both to British science and to our international reputation,” according to the Guardian.