The importance of protecting and supporting research activities and #talent 

Two support packages will give greater job protection to thousands of researchers, scientists and technicians working at UK universities during coronavirus (COVID-19).

  • Research jobs and ground-breaking projects impacted by coronavirus to be protected by 2 new government support packages
  • new research funding scheme opens this autumn to cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from a decline in international students
  • around £280 million to enable universities to continue their cutting-edge work, such as research into antibiotics resistance and the effects of coronavirus on society

Thousands of highly skilled researchers, scientists and technicians working at UK universities will receive greater job protection thanks to 2 significant support packages announced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma today (27 June).

R&D investment is critical to the UK economy – every £1 spent delivers £7 in economic and social benefits from helping to attract investment, boosting productivity and creating new jobs.

From this autumn, research-active universities across the UK that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will be able to access long term, low interest loans, supplemented by a small amount of government grants, covering up to 80% of their income losses caused by any actual decline in international students.

This funding will be available to bolster those universities who are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases. In addition, some universities may also be losing funding from charities and businesses, which goes towards vital medical research. The package will be made available to fund research and high priority projects, such as medical research, in order to support universities to continue to be at the cutting edge of innovation.

Around £200 million in new government investment will be made immediately available to support researchers’ salaries and other costs such as laboratory equipment and fieldwork. This will allow universities to retain research talent and protect innovative, ground-breaking projects across the country. UK Research & Innovation will also redistribute up to a further £80 million of existing funding to support research and development (R&D) in our universities.

The 2 support schemes will ensure universities facing difficult financial decisions, in line with the rest of the economy, can offer job security to up-and-coming researchers and are able to progress their cutting-edge work, such as research into the effects of coronavirus on our wider society, antibiotics resistance, and new tech solutions to tackle plastic waste and climate change.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK and a member of the Ministerial University Research and Knowledge Exchange Sustainability Taskforce, said:

“This is a timely and welcome acknowledgement from the UK Government of the importance of protecting and supporting research activities and talent as universities weather the financial storm created by the Covid-19 pandemic. University research and innovation will play a key role in driving economic and social recovery and benefitting communities and places across the UK.

“We are committed to working with government on the fuller details of this package of loans and grants to ensure that they provide accessible support for university research and innovation across all four nations of the UK.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group, said:

"The UK’s research sector is one of our global success stories, creating jobs, drawing investment ​into the UK and securing our status as a world leader in science and innovation. 

“Providing costed grant extensions through UKRI and the National Academies is a positive step towards protecting that national asset and the workforce at its heart, who will play a huge part in driving the post-Covid19 economic renewal across every nation and region of the UK. 

“The ability to access additional loans and grants should provide help where this is needed most and act as a bridge to a more sustainable future for research. However, we need to understand more about the detailed rules that will apply.

“This is step one though, and we look forward to continuing work with Government on its roadmap to deliver a science superpower future. Key to that will be moving towards a more sustainable operating model for research backed up with wider measures to boost collaborative research in the UK and with partners across the globe.

“Research has never been more important than now to drive innovation and productivity as the UK deals with the post-Covid19 economic recovery. The challenges we face dealing with pandemic, climate change and other major issues will only be addressed through many disciplines working together, so today’s announcements are good news for the country.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

My overwhelming response is positive. Universities have been wanting a package of support to stabilise what they do since the crisis began. My hope is that it will instil confidence and allow institutions to plan ahead more sensibly by protecting the vital research that we need now as much as ever before.

There are lots of outstanding questions, such as how to apply for the new loans, what the terms are and when the money will arrive. Individual institutions that I have spoken to are also struggling to work out exactly what the complicated details are likely to mean for them specifically. But, above all, it looks like we now have a sensible set of proposals for research-heavy institutions from which to start the detailed conversations.

I still hope that the worst fears about recruitment of international students for 2020 will not come true, but that depends on the future of the pandemic as well as how quickly the UK can show our institutions remain fully open to people from around the world and how well we communicate the improved visa regime.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:

The brilliance of our talented researchers and scientists has been absolutely critical not only to our medical response to coronavirus but also as we begin to emerge from this pandemic and support the UK’s economic recovery.

The support we are putting in place will give our world-leading universities a lifeline by protecting jobs to ensure our best minds can continue discovering new innovations that will benefit us all for generations to come.

Some of the ground-breaking projects benefiting from today’s investment will include:

  • research into antibiotics resistance, ensuring life-saving drugs and treatments remain effective
  • the development of innovative new technologies to tackle climate change, including advanced computing and quantum technology
  • solutions tackling the waste caused by the manufacture and use of plastics around the world; and
  • work to gain a greater understanding of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on our wider society, such as the impact of lockdown on people’s mental health

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway commented:

Coronavirus has shown us all the importance of the UK’s world-class R&D ecosystem. It has also highlighted the inspirational dedication of our brilliant scientists and researchers.

This package will protect thousands of highly skilled jobs and ensure the UK’s research community continue their vital work to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our society today, like tackling climate change, unlocking medical discovery and unleashing game-changing new technologies.

Providing financial support for the UK’s world-leading research institutions impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is a priority for the University Research Sustainability Ministerial Taskforce, co-chaired by Science Minister Amanda Solloway and Universities Minister Michelle Donelan.

Established in May, the Taskforce is identifying what support is needed to retain research talent and ensure the long-term sustainability of UK’s world-class research and development sector.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said:

Our world leading universities and the scientific research they undertake are a truly vital part of the UK’s society and our economy and will continue to be so as we start to recover from coronavirus.

We understand the difficulties universities are facing right now, which is why we announced a range of measures last month to ease financial pressures, and now I am delighted we are able to offer universities further financial support to protect vital research.

Professor Duncan Wingham Executive Chair of UKRI’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) said:

UKRI is acutely aware of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Almost everyone in our research and innovation community is either facing major interruptions to their work, or a major transition to work on the coronavirus pandemic.

The purpose of today’s announcement is to help sustain UKRI grant-funded research, research talent and the capability of UK research organisations all of which will underpin the post-pandemic, national recovery. This is vital support for UKRI funded research but will not address all the challenges the sector faces. UKRI continues to work closely with the government on how best to support recovery.

Climate researcher Dr James France from British Antarctic Survey said:

This is very welcome news because my NERC research grant was due to end soon. The disruption caused by coronavirus means that it has been a struggle for me, and colleagues in a similar position, to complete projects on schedule.

This package will give us breathing space to finish our current work on greenhouse gases and climate change properly. I am relieved that we’ll have time to publish the results before I need to be looking for my next position.

Christine Lockey, a Post Doctoral Research Assistant in Chemistry at the University of Warwick said:

Today’s announcement means that I will be able to complete important research projects, including my work on membrane protein biophysics and immune receptors in cells, that would have otherwise have been significantly affected by the loss of research time due to coronavirus and the associated loss of funding. The package announced today will safeguard my future research career and allow me to continue to progress in my chosen scientific field.

The announcement follows the commitment by the government at this year’s budget to increase public investment in R&D to £22 billion each year by 2024/25, putting the UK on the path to increase investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

The government has already committed to supporting university research and last month brought forward £100 million of university research funding by a year to provide immediate financial support.

The University Support Package of loans and grants will cover up to 80% of their income losses caused by an expected decline in international students, compared with overseas student revenue in 2018/19. The package will support up to 100% of non-publicly funded research. Further details, including the conditions attached to the funding, will be available in due course.

The Russell Group is working closely with the Government to release investment targeted at protecting vital research and research skills as the country faces this unprecedented health, economic and social crisis.  We are members of the Government’s Research Sustainability Taskforce, set up to look at sustaining the UK’s research base and ensure it is able to support the recovery.

The Russell Group has argued for UKRI to prioritise people in its immediate funding decisions to protect the UK’s globally recognised research base.

The package provides welcome support for the research sector, but will still mean universities have to make a lot of difficult decisions on what to prioritise given the scale of financial impacts faced due to Covid-19. Universities have already taken a number of steps to reflect these challenges - such as pay freezes, recruitment pauses and plans to pause or defer capital projects.

The Russell Group lobbied government for additional support for research because of the importance of protecting wide-ranging benefits the sector provides to the UK. This crucial investment isn't just about securing the next major technological breakthrough, it's also about ensuring research and innovation can transform sectors like social care and mental health, and boost industries like construction and manufacturing that will be essential to the economic recovery in every nation and region of the UK.

    • Stimulating the economy. For every £1 of public research funding they secure, Russell Group universities deliver an average return of £9 to the UK economy and produce 68 per cent of the UK’s world leading research, worth an estimated £34billion a year to the economy. Recognising their success in compound semiconductor research, Cardiff University will lead a consortium in South Wales, boosted by a £44m government grant, to develop new technologies in communications, med-tech and autonomous and electric vehicles that could transform the regional economy. Endocrine therapies developed at Manchester University are now helping over 1.5 million women with breast cancer around the world and the university has contributed substantially to Government initiatives that have helped the 90,000 working people a year diagnosed with cancer return to work after treatment.
    • Responding to public health crisis. Research-intensive universities have been at the forefront of the UK’s response to Covid19.  Universities have led the way in vaccine development trials, identifying new, better treatments that are increasing recovery rates, turbocharging testing capacity through the donation of equipment or through Glasgow University establishing one of the national Lighthouse Labs that deliver thousands of tests a day. Researchers have also designed new personal ventilators from off-the-shelf parts to protect hardworking NHS staff, developed new applications to map people’s response to Covid19 to help control its spread and created free teaching resources for children unable to attend school.
    • Job creation. In 2016, Russell Group universities supported a total of 261,000 full-time equivalent jobs – more than the entire population of cities like Aberdeen and Plymouth. More than 200,000 of these jobs, supported through direct employment and the expenditure of universities, staff and international students, were based outside of London. It means every part of the UK benefits from our activities. Queen’s University Belfast has been ranked as a top university for entrepreneurial impact and has supported the creation of nearly 100 technology start-ups, adding 2700 jobs to the regional economy.
    • Regional Growth. High-growth businesses are attracted into communities where research intensive universities are based because they are able easily recruit highly-skilled graduates and tap into fresh ideas. The University of Bristol’s Temple Enterprise Quarter is a £500m project that will attract private and public investment, enabling the delivery of 22,000 jobs and 7-11,000 homes to deliver digital innovation, skills and the low-carbon industries and urban living of the future. 
    • Closing the opportunity gap. Russell Group universities are also helping to create more opportunities for more people to benefit from the skills and knowledge a high-quality education at a research intensive university provides through a renewed focus on access and participation programmes and helping to improve standards across the education system. Queen Mary University of London, for example, works in partnership with several schools in East London to deliver a comprehensive science-oriented  curriculum to raise standards and attainment.

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