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Impact of COVID on future research

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

Whilst the pandemic has thrust science into the centre stage, not all researchers have benefitted equally from the increased attention. Limitations in access to laboratory space, funding shortages and increased childcare demands have exacerbated gender inequalities and slowed progress in areas outside of health and epidemiology (more).

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned a survey over the period up to October 2020 (more) of researchers’ experiences during lockdown, receiving responses from 8,416 researchers across the UK. Key results included the following:

· 40% had reduced research capacity because of increased caring responsibilities

· 30% had reduced research capacity because of increased teaching commitments

· 45% expected a reduction in research funding over the next year, rising to 75% where funding was coming from industry

· >50% expected redundancies in their research groups

· Highest concern for employment opportunities for women, part-time researchers and those on fixed-term contracts.

A global survey of 22,000 researchers from 152 countries by open access publisher Frontiers (more) found that 47% believed that there would be less funding in their research area because of COVID-19, and 25% reported that funding had already been redirected from their research. Levels of concern were reportedly highest for those researchers in geology and environmental science.

Against this backdrop, President Biden announced a dramatic increase in non-defence R&D spending on 1 April with a $325 bn research, innovation and pandemic preparedness plan (more). This includes $50 bn for the National Science Foundation, $35 bn for energy and climate initiatives and $15 bn for climate change demonstration projects. The overall funding is part of the $2.3 tn America Jobs Plan focused on infrastructure investment, and there is likely to be significant resistance from Republican opponents and others concerned about the possibility of future increases in taxation. However, this announcement could shift the global dynamic on R&D funding commitments, as Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, only has a budget of Euro 95.5 bn.

Horizon Europe is focused on climate change, achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals and enabling higher growth in the EU. The UK is expected to be taking part in Horizon Europe as an associated country after Brexit. However, there continues to be a lack of clarity over the UK’s status in the programme as extra funding promised by the UK Government of £250 million this month is less than the £1 bn that Universities UK believed would be the cost of participation (more)

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