UKRI Official Development Assistance letter 23 March 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor

I am writing again following my recent letter of 11 March 2021 that outlined the requirement for UKRI to find substantial savings in the next financial year across our large portfolio of Official Development Assistance (ODA) research and innovation. In that letter, I set out our aim to work closely with you to try to maximise the benefits from the £125m of ODA funding that we have been allocated for the 2021/22 financial year, which represents about a £120m gap between allocations and commitments.

This letter details how we intend to manage the reduction in spend that we have been asked to deliver within the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). Due to their size and complexity the reductions sought from the GCRF Interdisciplinary Research Hubs grants will be considered separately by UKRI and communicated to you soon. Separate letters will also be issued shortly for: GCRF grants funded through UKRI-IUK; Newton Fund grants; and GCRF grants held directly by institutions located outside the UK. We will also send an email to all individual grant holders soon afterwards to share our approach with them. We are also progressing with urgent conversations with BEIS about the Other ODA category and will update you shortly. These are the grants that are classed as ODA but funded through UKRI Council core budgets.

The Foreign Secretary’s letter to the Chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee stated that all UK aid will be focused on seven global challenges, including seven subthemes within the science, research and technology challenge1. The vast majority of UKRI’s GCRF grants fall within these seven sub-themes, but a very small number of grants do not and regrettably
ODA funding to this cohort of grants will terminate from 31 July 2021.

There are a small number of grants that are funded via GCRF but whose applications originated via an alternative method, for example, Research Council responsive mode call. These are included within your list of grants but we are urgently exploring other options for funding and will be back in touch about these as soon as possible. For now, you should continue to consider them alongside the rest of your portfolio.

We would like to work with you in determining the next steps for the grant or portfolio of grants that you hold within your institution. I have attached a list of the affected grants within your institution. The list sets out the previous level of commitment prior to the reductions as well as a new reduced indicative cap on the funding available. This represents about four months of funding up until 31 July 2021.

We want you to consider one of three options for each grant:

  1. Termination of those grants which become inviable on this reduced level of funding. For example, a grant may no longer be able to realise development impact on a reduced level of funding;
  2. Acceptance of the four months funding that we can offer in order to reprofile this funding across up to 12 months of financial year 2021/22;
  3. Make a case on an exceptional basis for a small amount of additional funding for a particular grant.

We would like you to consider different terminating and reprofiling options for individual grants under Options 1 and 2 across your portfolio of grants as a whole. For example, if you have two grants under Option 2, you may consider the most optimal funding to be two months support for one grant and six months to the other. Or if you have three grants, one which is not viable with reduced funding and placed in Option 1, the remaining two grants could be allocated 6 months funding each.

Option 3 is intended to recognise that for a minority of grants a different approach may be needed. For example, we envisage that a case for special consideration could be made where the grant-funded activities are governed by specific ethical or legal frameworks – for example research involving human participants or research including the use of animals – and in those circumstances, a proposal for additional support may be appropriate.

Through GCRF, UKRI is committed to both the principles of equality diversity and inclusion and to equitable partnerships.2 You should also be mindful of these principles when developing your proposals. On the template, you will be required to confirm that you have given these principles appropriate consideration and you may be required to provide written evidence to support your proposals. In particular, you should review Gender Equality Statements to ensure their continued validity and consider policies and guidance relating to safeguarding, preventing harm and bullying and harassment.

We will of course make the case for substantial investments in ODA research and innovation as part of the next Spending Review, expected in autumn 2021. We note that the Integrated Review, published on 16 March 2021, reaffirmed the role of ODA research and innovation in Britain’s global partnerships. However, at this time, we simply do not know how much ODA funding will be allocated to UKRI for the financial year 2022/23. In many cases, the grant(s) held by your institution include a profile of expected funding for future years. We are continuing to negotiate with BEIS over future funding and will keep you informed. On balance of risks our preferred approach is to offer you the opportunity to find a way to maintain the capabilities and partnerships established through GCRF activities in a reduced form during the next financial year, to keep open the chance that these grants might continue to operate in the future.

The enclosed template sets out the possible options and we would like to work with you to understand which of these options might be the most appropriate for your portfolio of grants. Whilst we do not know what our allocation will be in 22/23, we are working to the scenario that the maximum level would be that of our current legal commitments, subject to the SR settlement. Please could you indicate in the attached template what actions you would propose for your portfolio. Where you propose reprofiling it would be helpful if you could indicate how much further into future years you may need to extend grants, if that were permissible or even possible.

Your research management offices will be invited to participate in webinar/drop-in session within the next week or so which we will hold to brief them on details of the process and answer any questions that they may have on the process.

We will try our utmost to work through these difficult decisions and processes in as fair and transparent way as possible, working with you and others. We regret that we have to act very quickly to ensure that we can bring our committed expenditure within the cap set by government. In order to ensure that proposals are affordable within our allocation, we will need to have received your proposal for managing your portfolio of grants no later than 16 April 2021. UKRI will review all submissions received and engage with you as necessary for clarification. UKRI will aim to issue all formal termination notices by 30 April 2021 and apply financial adjustments to continuing projects by Monday 31 May 2021.

We are committed to working closely with you, your partners and stakeholders as we seek to maximise the impacts of the UKRI GCRF investments that we have been allocated and the capability and partnerships for international development research and innovation that have been established through GCRF funding to date.

Yours sincerely

Professor Christopher Smith, FSAS, FRHistS, FSA, FRSA, MAE
UKRI International Champion
Executive Chair Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation

1 These were set out by the Foreign Secretary in his letter of 25th November 2020 to the Chair of the International Development Select Committee as being: Climate Change and biodiversity; COVID and global health security; Girls’ education; Science, Research and Technology; Open societies and conflict resolution; Humanitarian preparedness
and responses; and Trade and economic development.

2 UKCDR guidance on equitable partnerships

Last updated: 17 January 2023

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