Open Letter to the Research and Innovation Community
Professor Sir Mark Walport
The research and innovation system, like every part of society, is facing great uncertainty as we adapt to the new challenges caused by COVID-19. Very few of us have faced a situation like this before, of such scale, complexity or urgency. This is not just about the sustainability of the research and development system, important as that is, but about people. Most researchers and innovators are now having to deal with very difficult circumstances, whether they are a researcher just setting out on their career, a lab technician critical to delivering research, or the founder of a small business exploring bold new innovations. Almost everyone in research and innovation is either facing major interruptions to their work or a major transition to work on the COVID-19 pandemic. The range of this work is wide, from understanding the infection, and developing and testing treatments and vaccines, to exploring all of the associated societal impacts and thinking about the aftermath.
From discussions with leaders across the sector and listening to researchers, businesses and students on social media, a set of clear challenges are surfacing for individuals and organisations. Many of us are adjusting to rebalancing work and home life, which can be unsettling both physically and mentally. But many people are also deeply concerned about their immediate situation and livelihoods. So, as well as supporting efforts to tackle this pandemic, UKRI’s role, in concert with other funders and government, is to ensure that the R&D system – and the people who are its lifeblood – emerge from this current situation in the best possible health.
To address COVID-19, UKRI has been working hard and at pace to refocus its activity. Alongside NIHR we have delivered a rapid response call for research proposals on COVID-19 with up to £20 million available, with the first six projects announced on 23rd March. Later today we are launching a single web portal for streamlined shorter grant and innovation applications, including guidance for researchers currently holding UKRI standard grants that wish to repurpose their funds for COVID-19. Through Innovate UK we are working closely with the manufacturing industry to boost the production of ventilators and increase vaccine manufacturing infrastructure. We will continue to work across government to drive action on the sustainability of funding.
Wherever we can we are taking quick decisions, identifying new issues as they emerge and providing answers and support wherever possible. In doing this we are working across government, with our ‘parent’ Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and with the Treasury. We are in daily contact across government to make sure they are hearing about the problems that researchers and businesses are facing. At this stage we do not have all answers to all the questions.
We are talking to and working with the universities, research organisations, and businesses we support to identify and prioritise issues, and to help find solutions. The government is moving urgently to address an enormous range of issues as they arise, as part of a wider effort to support society and the economy.
We are working closely with institutions and representative groups, but know that many people feel their voice isn’t being heard. We will be working hard to listen to as many of you as possible and will provide regular updates via our website and social media.
Professor Sir Mark Walport
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