At UCL, all research laboratories, except those deemed ‘in the immediate national interest’ such as those doing research on coronavirus, closed from the 20th March until at least the 15th April. As many other UK research laboratories follow suit, research-intensive universities call for extra funds to cover costs of disruption to science. The aim is to establish an emergency fund to cover the salaries of staff, PhD stipends, and other research costs during the coronavirus shutdown.
In a letter to UK Research and Innovation published (UKRI) on the 18th March, the group’s Chief Executive, Tim Bradshaw, said current plans to give a no-cost extension to research grants and reimburse some travel costs would not be enough to mitigate the huge disruption caused by the near sector-wide closure of laboratories. He has said the shutdown ‘is likely to be severely disruptive to the careers and training of the people who underpin the UK’s research base.’
With a significant proportion of research experiments being put on hold, many staff on fixed-term contracts funded by UKRI and its research councils, including postdoctoral and PhD researchers, could see their contracts expire well before projects can be completed unless funding can be secured. Bradshaw has added that ‘in the immediate future, our universities are likely to be further impacted financially by the delay or withdrawal of international students from our institutions.’
In a statement on the 18th March, Sir Mark Walport outlined the UKRI’s two priorities:
The safety and wellbeing of our workforce and, as far as possible, the continuation of our business as a national funder of research and innovation. We will work with our communities, institutions and other funding organisations to understand and respond to the impacts of coronavirus, helping to develop the necessary support to mitigate these.
Walport also added UKRI would provide ‘regular, updated information’ in the ‘coming weeks and months.’