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Funders promise continuity despite Covid-19


Research financiers promise leniency on deadlines and ‘pragmatic’ approach to budget problems

A number of Ireland’s principal funding bodies have issued a joint statement to reassure researchers that deadlines and budgets will be more flexible in order to help science continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

On 16 March, funders issued a document stating that a “pragmatic” approach would be taken in cases where laboratories would close or researchers were prevented from travel. The signatories of the document include Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council.

The funders said they recognise that the virus is having a significant impact on researchers in Ireland and abroad. The group accepted that projects may be “unavoidably delayed” as a result of measures taken to contain it.

They said they would be more relaxed about call deadlines as well as deadlines for progress reports and the return of award documentation. They will also offer extra funding in case of budget reallocations or exceptional charges related to travel or other restrictions and project extensions.

The funders said that they were in fortnightly conference calls with senior representatives of the universities and institutes.

Research funding is but one aspect of higher education to see considerable disruption as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold. On 13 March, Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar moved to shut down all education from pre-school through to higher education as a way to slow the advance of the virus. 

In an address to the public on 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, he acknowledged it was likely that the crisis would continue into the summer months. Universities and technology institutes moved immediately to establish remote learning and assessment methodologies with lectures, tutorials, laboratory work and seminars taking place online.

The presidents of these institutions came together to release a statement of support to the 250,000 students undertaking degree work. The statement said that students’ health and safety, and that of the wider community, was a “primary concern”. Students are in a unique position, the presidents said, because they are able to work remotely.