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UK government scraps major ODA-financed R&D funds

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GCRF, Newton Fund and Fund for International Collaboration to be replaced by new financing model

The UK’s three major funds for international development research worth more than £2 billion up to 2021 are being scrapped, Research Professional News can reveal.

Questions have been simmering over the future of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund, both of which support partnerships between researchers in the UK and in developing countries, and both of which reached the end of their spending periods in 2021.

The government’s decision to slash aid spending saw deep cuts to research projects supported by both funds last year, fuelling fears about the future of these two flagship funds.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has now informed Research Professional News that neither fund will continue beyond their first iteration, but existing projects will continue to be funded.

Instead, the business department will adopt a new model of international science collaboration that will combine Official Development Assistance funds with non-ODA funds.

Another fund being discontinued is the Fund for International Collaboration, a £160 million fund administered by UKRI supporting international collaborations in 20 partner countries.

International development

The development comes after a shake-up in government on its approach to international development. The former Department for International Development was merged into the Foreign Office in 2020, which in 2021 published its integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, which promised to “build a strong and varied network of international [science and technology] partnerships”, including through ODA spending.

Following a review of ODA spending, former foreign secretary Dominic Raab said in January 2021 that science and research would remain one of seven priority areas but oversaw disproportionate cuts to research funded through the business department, as well as deep cuts to research funded by the Foreign Office.

The GCRF was originally worth £1.5 billion over its five-year funding period but has lost at least £125 million due to the cuts. The Newton Fund was slated as being worth £735m, but spending tracked by the business department up to March 2021 totalled £585m, with no new projects lined up for funding.

Both funds are administered by a range of UK-based funders, with UK Research and Innovation accounting for the lion’s share of funding. Other funders include the UK’s four national academies, the UK Space Agency, the British Council and the Met Office.

Last week, the business department released evaluation reports for the GCRF and Newton Fund, which strongly endorsed both funds as largely successful in their aim to support equitable partnerships, despite previous concerns over the efficacy of the Newton Fund.

The GCRF was expected to start a second five-year phase from 2021-26.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “The department regularly evaluates its research and innovation funds to ensure continuous improvement and value for money.

“The findings of these independent reports will help us to identify and address areas of strength and weakness to deliver more effective research programmes in future.”