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Academics ‘should be spending time on research, not paperwork’

Image: The Royal Society

Shadow science minister calls for a reform to academia

The coronavirus crisis has shown that scientific research is a public good, and should be reformed to reset its priorities, the shadow science minister has said.

In a comment piece written exclusively for Research Professional News, Chi Onwurah, who is also the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, said she was “impressed, but not surprised,” by how successfully the UK’s researchers have risen to the challenge of Covid-19.

But Onwurah said that as the UK emerges from the coronavirus crisis, our societies will need to change significantly to tackle challenges such as the climate emergency and future pandemics.

“This will require government support, public buy-in, and researchers to be focused towards vital goals,” she wrote. “I want to see universities and scientific research enabling new industries, particularly in manufacturing, that can respond to public health crises as well as decarbonise the economy.”

Onwurah also criticised the Research Excellence Framework for encouraging a “cutthroat environment, feeding into league tables and creating incentives to game the system”.

“Academics should be spending their time on research that can inform policy and social change, not filling in grant applications,” she said, calling for continuing support and funding for research. “Any temporary stagnation in funding and support for research risks weakening our response to both the pandemic and the climate crisis.”

Read the full letter here.