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Covid-19 funder updates: UK non-biomed research

How schemes from the UK’s major non-biomedical funders are affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Following our roundups published in April, Research Professional News has once again collected information from major UK and international funders on how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting their scheduled grant schemes. All information should be treated as being subject to change but was correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of going to press.

In this section we summarise the positions of:

  • The British Academy
  • The Leverhulme Trust
  • The Nuffield Foundation
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering

The British Academy

Vanessa Cuthill, the British Academy’s director of research, says the academy is continuing with its normal annual timetable for Postdoctoral Fellowships, Mid-Career Fellowships, Small Research Grants and other schemes.

“None of our standard calls have been cancelled or postponed, nor have we changed the requirements,” she tells us, adding that application numbers to most schemes were broadly consistent with previous years. “We have in fact seen an increase in the number of applications submitted to the Postdoctoral and Mid-Career Fellowship schemes, two of our largest annual schemes,” she says.

Fifty-six projects under its call earlier this year for Covid-19 Small Research Grants are now underway, with funding coming partially from the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and also thanks to a new partnership with the Wellcome Trust. The British Academy has “no plans to issue a further call for specific Covid-19-related research grants,” Cuthill says.

However, Cuthill emphasised that the funder is “even more flexible and more responsive to the needs of our award-holders than usual”. For instance, it is issuing no-cost extensions and “encouraging creative thinking to enable research to proceed when travel is restricted, including allowing virement of funding from travel to other purposes”. She says applicants to the academy’s schemes are encouraged to plan their research activities with this in mind. The British Academy has also been co-operating with other funders “to ensure common approaches, as appropriate”, she says.

The Leverhulme Trust

The Leverhulme Trust last updated the Covid-19 information on its website on 24 September and declined to comment further. On its website the trust said all funding schemes and calls would be open for applications as expected. “Generally, application, shortlisting and decision dates will not change but if they do, changes will be notified on the home page of the website, the relevant scheme page and via the Trust’s Twitter account.”

The trust also pointed out that it is accepting applications for costed extensions from grantees who hold a British Academy, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellowship or an Apex Award that is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and whose work has been “compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic”. It will consider extensions of up to three months, or “exceptionally up to six months where your research has been significantly affected”. It asks grantees to only apply for an extension in the final six months of their research. The trust’s Covid information page says: “We expect to be processing applications to the fund for some years, as this is a long-term issue and one that impacts schemes and disciplines in different ways.”

The Nuffield Foundation

In March 2020 the Nuffield Foundation fast-tracked applications for research projects that were, in the words of Claire Sewell, senior communications officer for the foundation, “responding to the pandemic and its social consequences…as the crisis unfolded”. Nuffield funded seven projects from 100 applications that, Sewell says, “could get underway rapidly and were most likely to benefit society by informing the public policy response”. The projects cover social impacts including food security, mental health, trust in government and education.

Sewell says the organisation does not plan any changes to its grant call schedule or procedures for the next six months. The funder has, however, made a key change to its application guidelines to make it clear that Covid-19 is a particular area of interest for applications.

“Our funding priorities…have always made clear that we are keen to engage with, and to understand the significance of, new and emerging trends and disruptive forces—social, demographic, technological, and economic,” Sewell says. The organisation has accordingly updated its guide for applicants, she adds, “to make it explicit that we include Covid-19 as an instance of such a trend or force”.

Sewell said the foundation continued to work to “determine the best way [to] support” grantees affected by Covid-19, for instance those who were unable to access data or complete field work. It would continue to consider extensions, requests to change project, or allow grantees to add a Covid-19 component to their research “where practicable”, she says.

The Royal Academy of Engineering

Andrew Clark, director of programmes at the Royal Academy of Engineering, says that the academy is “hoping to do further phases of our Engineering X Pandemic Preparedness programme and may also refocus other applied research calls to concentrate on addressing and recovering from the pandemic and its socio-economic impact”.

However, Clark adds, “since most of our grant funding beyond March is dependent on the ongoing Government spending review, we can’t announce any forward plan for new Covid related calls at the moment.”

The academy has “not significantly adjusted” its planned schedule for its major programmes yet, but may do so. This would depend not only on the changing impact of the pandemic, Clark says, but also on the spending review outcome and whether the UK associates to Horizon Europe programmes. Clark says the academy’s priority will be “making sure that there are the right opportunities for early career researchers, whatever the wider environment”.

With regard to current grantees, he says the academy will continue to give awardees “as much flexibility as our funding arrangements allow”. Meanwhile it has now moved most of its training and support activities online, “although the extra preparation and content needed means we will do slightly fewer activities,” he says.