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Covid-19 funder updates: UK non-biomed research

How schemes from the UK’s major funders are affected by the coronavirus outbreak

Research Professional News has 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:

  • UK Research and Innovation funders including Economic and Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, Science and Technology Facilities Council and Innovate UK
  • British Academy
  • Leverhulme Trust
  • Nuffield Foundation
  • Royal Academy of Engineering

1. Public funding bodies

UKRI funders

Potential applicants to all UKRI schemes should refer to UKRI’s 27 March statement which says it is “planning that UKRI funding programmes will continue, but we will work to identify any impacts on specific calls or research disciplines. Our funding systems—Je-S, IFS and _connect—are operating as normal. We will review our call deadlines and, if required, extend or reopen calls in light of the impact of coronavirus. This will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the appropriate council or fund. We will continue to receive and decide quickly on grants relevant to the management and follow-up of the coronavirus pandemic.”

On 31 March, UKRI opened a multidisciplinary call for research and innovation ideas to address the coronovirus pandemic. Projects can run for up to 18 months and should address the health, social, economic or environmental impacts of the outbreak.

UKRI is also encouraging projects that support the manufacture or wider adoption of any intervention with "significant potential", as well as projects that gather "critical data and resources quickly for future research use".

The previous day, UKRI chief executive Mark Walport announced the launch of "a single web portal for streamlined shorter grant and innovation applications [for coronavirus research], including guidance for researchers currently holding UKRI Standard Grants that wish to repurpose their funds for Covid-19.

In its 27 March statement, UKRI said there would “clearly be major impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on all existing awards”. The organisation is pledging to “work with the many institutions affected to understand the full extent of the issues” disrupting their activities and pass along concerns to the UK government. Extensions will be considered on a “case-by-case basis” and it will offer “no-cost extensions” on grants disrupted by Covid-19. Such extensions will generally be offered for three to six months, subject to terms and conditions, the agency says.

Here is how the Covid-19 has affected some of the agencies under the UKRI umbrella so far:

ESRC

The ESRC closed its Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme call on 23 March as planned. In a statement published on 20 March the council said that as the call opened on 18 November, it did not believe the deadline would “present a problem to the vast majority of applicants”. However, it said it would consider extensions on a case-by-case basis in events “where an individual has been directly impacted by Covid-19, and can also accept applications that might not include all of the usual supporting documentation, for example, institutional letters of support and costings, if Covid-19 has prevented applicants being able to obtain them”.

EPSRC

The deadline of 4 June for the latest round of the EPSRC’s New Horizons call, which opened on 3 March, is currently being reviewed. On 1 April, a spokeswoman told Research Professional news that “in light of the current Covid-19 situation we are considering our approach to the New Horizons call and any decision to extend the application deadline will be taken shortly and announced in due course.”

NERC

NERC has highlighted its Urgency Grant scheme, set up to fund “unexpected and transient scientific opportunities created by unpredictable natural events”, tweeting on 27 March that the scheme was open to bids investigating Covid-19. Any applications must be predominantly in NERC’s remit and be “sensitive to social distancing and other current restrictions”, the council said. It has said it will process requests “as quickly as possible” given the situation.

STFC

The STFC’s Central Laser Facility has opened a call for proposals to gain rapid access to its Octopus imaging facility for research on Covid-19. The facility includes numerous optical microscopy instruments and techniques.

Innovate UK

In a statement published on 24 March, Innovate UK asked award recipients to contact their monitoring officer at the agency for detailed information on how grants will be affected. Grantees can also contact specialist advisers from the Innovate UK Enterprise Europe Network, who are located regionally.

“We will continue to monitor the ongoing impact of coronavirus on the companies we support to ensure we can provide the best support whilst managing public money appropriately,” the agency said.

2. Charities, foundations and learned societies

British Academy

In a statement on 17 March, the British Academy said it will not change deadlines for its calls that were open at the time: the Newton International Fellowships, the Jordan-UK El Hassan bin Talal Research Chair in Sustainability and the various Knowledge Frontiers symposia.

On 2 April, a spokesman updated Research Professional News: "We have extended the deadline for the Newton International Fellowships, in line with the Royal Society and Academy of Medical Sciences, to 8 April."

The spokesman added that the academy had not delayed opening any planned calls and that the next round of British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grants is still on schedule to open on 8 April.

Regarding grantees, the academy said in its statement: “we understand that the outbreak may impact on the activities associated with some awards and will treat all requests for no-cost extensions to awards and requests for virement of funding between cost headings sympathetically”.

Applicants requesting extensions must contact the British Academy by email and complete a change request form in its FlexiGrant system. It has said that costs not reimbursed by travel operators or insurance can be charged to grants. “Grants often end with an underspend and we expect award-holders to be able to absorb these costs through this and other re-arrangements in their budgets,” the academy said.

Leverhulme Trust

In a statement on 23 March, the Leverhulme Trust said, unambiguously: “All our funding schemes and calls remain open for applications. Application deadlines, shortlisting, and decision dates will not change.”

The trust also said that it can approve and submit applications on behalf of organisations that have closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, but we need agreement, which can be emailed, from an appropriate person in the organisation to do this.

The trust reiterated its message from a previous statement that it would “continue to take its usual pragmatic approach, and will allow reasonable changes to budget lines and/or no-cost extensions to grants, to enable grant holders to manage their research in the best way for their circumstances”. It is asking that grant recipients contact the trust to agree extensions and budgetary changes in advance.

Nuffield Foundation

In a statement on 17 March, the Nuffield Foundation said it would continue with assessments of all funding applications underway, including outline applications submitted by the 16 March 2020 deadline.

However, the foundation also said it was “mindful that applicants may wish to reconsider their proposals in light of the pandemic and are encouraging them to adjust and resubmit should that be the case.”

The statement alluded to the possibility of extending deadlines on scheduled calls “to give applicants the time they need to prepare proposals in light of the fundamental changes to our society”.

It will extend the deadline for its next round of outline applications to the Strategic Fund from April to 29 June 2020, which will “give applicants sufficient time to consider the implications of the pandemic for their proposals, in terms of both the research questions and design”.

In an email sent to Research Professional News on 26 March, a spokeswoman said the foundation “will extend the deadline for its next round of outline applications to the Strategic Fund from April to 29 June, to “give applicants sufficient time to consider the implications of the pandemic for their proposals, in terms of both the research questions and design”.

The email also said that the September 2020 deadline for its Research, Development and Analysis Fund will be kept “under review as the longer-term implications of the pandemic become clearer” and that it will extend the deadline if it feels such a move is “in the best interests of applicants”.

The spokesperson also said that “in the coming months, we are encouraging applications to our Research, Development and Analysis Fund to address the huge social challenges and historical consequences of the pandemic. We seek original and ambitious proposals that will allow us to analyse and document the pandemic’s effects on our social well-being and the potential interventions that may help alleviate them in the medium term.”

The foundation has previously said that any Nuffield grantees whose work is disrupted by the virus should contact the funder to discuss arrangements. “We fund a diverse range of projects and will respond to each enquiry on a case-by-case basis rather than by issuing generic guidance,” Nuffield said in its 17 March statement.

The Royal Academy of Engineering

In an email to Research Professional News on 26 March, a spokeswoman for the Royal Academy of Engineering said the society “is working to refocus some of its planned calls” to support research efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have also extended the closing dates of some open schemes and will continue to review deadlines as the circumstances change,” the spokeswoman said.

In a statement published the same day, the academy said it was supporting other calls for engineers and manufacturers to join with the Covid-19 response. “While there is an immediate need to support ventilator manufacture, we also want to encourage innovation and collaboration across all relevant areas of engineering, including healthcare systems, critical infrastructure, business management and the supply chain,” the statement said.

The statement also said the Royal Academy of Engineering would “accommodate necessary changes to projects as much as possible” and encourages applicants to contact them about any concerns of fulfilling  the terms of an active grant.

“We will accommodate necessary changes to [grantees] plans as much as possible and will honour costs that they have incurred in good faith whether plans go ahead or not,” the email to Research Professional News added.