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Covid-19 and its ‘neglected’ impacts on South African research

Image: Brandon Gregory [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Student supervision, grant applications and project deliverables all hamstrung by pandemic

The broader impact of the coronavirus pandemic on research has been neglected, a group of academics have warned. Their paper appeared in the South African Journal of Science on 30 July. It was authored by scientists from the universities of Pretoria, Fort Hare, Johannesburg and South Africa.

They warn that the pandemic has already had a slew of negative impacts on research in the country: “These include supervising postgraduate students, meeting research output targets, submitting new grants to secure the next cycle of research, and meeting research funding and project deliverables.”

Many research projects have been “compromised” by lockdown regulations and measures to combat the virus, such as social distancing, they add. The impacts range from the inability of young scientists to access their labs or the field, to senior academics’ inability to fulfil their obligations in international projects. 

“While academics from the natural and physical sciences will mainly be affected by the lack of access to field study sites and laboratory facilities during the various phases of lockdown, many social scientists may be affected far longer as social distancing strategies persist,” they write.

And while some academics could produce papers during the lockdown, others find themselves hamstrung by increased anxiety or household duties. Early-career researchers and women are likely to be worst affected, the authors say.

The authors suggest that the National Research Foundation extend all its funding deadlines, or issue second funding calls for programmes for which initial calls occurred during the lockdown. 

They also call on universities to hold back government publication subsidies, which are usually paid out as salaries, to help researchers earmark them for research and postgraduate funding. “We need flexibility in a time of crisis,” they write.