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Government gives £100m R&D advance to ‘bail out’ universities

Covid-19 measures bring forward research funding and set up research sustainability taskforce

The government has announced a Covid-19 support package for higher education, which includes bringing forward to this academic year £100 million of quality-related research funding in England.

The 4 May announcement describes the move as an “immediate help to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”.

The package also includes setting up a “research sustainability taskforce” to consider “how best to respond to the challenges universities face on research as a result of Covid-19, and so university research can continue to support the UK’s economic recovery following the crisis”.

The government has also brought forward £2.6 billion in tuition fee payments for universities to help them manage their cash flow (Read our full story on this, with reaction from across higher education, available to our HE subscribers).

Amanda Solloway, the science minister, said that the UK was “home to some of the world’s leading scientists and researchers” and that “their work has already proved itself to be invaluable to our response to coronavirus”.

“This £100 million we are bringing forward will provide immediate help to ensure the excellent research taking place in our universities continues throughout this period of uncertainty,” she added.

Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK said universities will now need to “work with government to ensure that detailed measures are developed to meet both the scale and diversity of pressures that universities are facing—including further support to protect the strength, capacity and quality of the research base and ensure the sector is positioned to support economic and social recovery through research and innovation”.

“The package of support announced by government today is a start, but it cannot be all that is offered to UK universities to cover the damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak,” said Diana Beech, head of government affairs at the University of Warwick and a former adviser to three universities and science ministers.

“The £100m of public funding promised as part of this package is, after all, only 5 per cent of the original ask. So, unless more substantial follow-up measures are provided on the research-front soon, the sad reality is the UK’s leading universities will have no choice but to plan for the future based on next to no contribution from government,” Beech added. “More needs to be done urgently to safeguard the sustainability of research and our universities’ futures–not to mention people’s jobs and livelihoods.”