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Open letter to the research and innovation community


Open letter to the research and innovation community

As we gain greater understanding of the challenges of the pandemic, I want to give you a further update on what UKRI is doing to support the UK research and innovation system.

In recent weeks the government has published details of a package of measures to support students and the higher education sector, including guidance on the use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) in Higher Education Institutions. This recognises the complexity of funding and clarifies how institutions should be using the scheme. You can find the relevant guidance here. It’s worth noting that researchers who continue to be paid through UKRI grants-funded research cannot also be supported through the furlough scheme.

Further support will come through Research England, part of UKRI, which will bring forward £100 million of Quality Research (QR) funding to eligible institutions. UKRI is also part of the government’s university research sustainability taskforce that is examining how best to respond to the challenges for the sector resulting from COVID-19.

We know there are still many issues to address as the situation, and its impacts, continue to evolve. Many researchers have been raising concerns about the unequal impact the pandemic is having for people with underlying health conditions, on the day-to-day lives of those with caring responsibilities and on the mental health of individuals working in the research and innovation sector. Equality and inclusivity are at the heart of UKRI’s vision for the UK’s research and innovation community and this commitment remains during these difficult times.

We are taking action to identify, understand and address the impacts COVID-19 is having on particular individuals and groups. We are keeping our guidance under review, carrying out rapid equality assessments of our policy changes and funding calls; and establishing monitoring and reporting of diversity data to understand who is in receipt of funding through our rapid response calls.

The government wants to understand how the pandemic is having an impact on researchers and research groups.  We are supporting, alongside Universities UK, a survey run by Vitae to help gather evidence to inform policy considerations. You can access the survey here before the closing date of 9th June.

In the meantime, UKRI is providing 6-month costed extensions for UKRI funded PhD students in their final year. For those students not in their final year, our guidance is that costed extensions should be considered on a case by case basis.  I encourage all UKRI students to talk to their supervisors or programmes about whether they need to adjust or amend their project to ensure they can complete their PhD. We have tried to minimise paperwork, balancing the student’s needs against the need to account for the public money being provided.

As well as the higher education sector, we have been working to deliver support for the many businesses, both small and large, that we have been funding. Innovate UK has been putting in a great deal of hard work to deliver a new competition for innovative companies. Over 800 companies, nearly twice as many winners as any previous Innovate UK competition, will share grant funding of £40 million to address challenges arising from COVID-19. We know that businesses are eager to work on this, more than 8,600 companies applied to this special fast-track call. I’m pleased that we have been able to run this call swiftly and rigorously, shortening the process from a typical six months to just six weeks, so that we can get funding out to companies to start having an impact.

This call is one of a series of measures that Innovate UK is delivering at pace, part of the £1.25 billion coronavirus package first announced by the Chancellor. The call is reinforced by funding for continuity grants (up to £90 million available) and loans (up to £210 million available) to SMEs and third sector organisations who are existing Innovate UK award holders but at risk of their projects being substantially disrupted by COVID-19, through issues such as funding shortfalls or interrupted cashflow.

On a personal note, I am delighted that Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser will be joining UKRI as its new CEO from 29th June. It has been a privilege to lead UKRI as it has established itself as a champion of UK research and innovation across disciplines and sectors. Although these are challenging times for the UK’s superb research and innovation system and the excellent researchers that drive it, I can think of nobody better to continue UKRI’s mission.


Signature of Sir Mark Walport

Professor Sir Mark Walport

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