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US university groups demand more money for Covid-19

$2 trillion stimulus package ‘falls far short’ in support for universities, warn higher education leaders

University groups in the United States have said a $2 trillion stimulus package approved for dealing with Covid-19 does not go far enough to support higher education, putting at risk research efforts for tackling the pandemic.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said that the $14 billion set aside for universities and colleges in the package “falls far short of what is needed”.

“The bill does not provide funding to help pay for graduate students, postdocs and others who can’t get into the lab as well as…for winding down and eventually ramping up research activity,” McPherson said.

He warned that higher education institutions are facing a “huge financial hit” and that more funding was needed to “maintain a robust scientific enterprise, which is at the forefront of searching for cures and treatments”.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, agreed. She said the stimulus package provides “some relief to students, colleges, and universities” but that Congress will need to deliver more for research universities.

“We need additional funding now for research into the cures, treatments, and vaccines that America and the world badly need,” said Coleman.

The stimulus package was signed into law by US president Donald Trump on 27 March after a swift passage through Congress with bipartisan support.

Other research organisations have been more upbeat about the package, which includes $5.5 billion in funding for research, innovation and data gathering by federal agencies. The extra funding adds to an earlier package of $4.5 billion for scaling up development of vaccines, treatments and tests.

“We applaud the research investments in the bipartisan stimulus package that passed the US Congress, which are critical to pushing the frontiers of our scientific knowledge and understanding of this novel coronavirus,” Joanne Carney, chief government relations officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told Research Professional News.

A spokesperson for the National Science Foundation said the funder “appreciates the continued support it receives from Congress”. The stimulus package authorised $76 million in extra funding for the NSF, which to date has funded 22 grants on Covid-19 worth over $3 million.