More than 1,000 jobs at risk at global hubs facing research cuts

A dozen flagship UK-led hubs make up around half the active grant funding from under-threat GCRF budget      

March 30, 2021
A hand under a tap dripping water, symbolising cuts to the UK’s ODA spending
Source: iStock

More than 1,000 jobs could be at risk at a dozen major UK-led global research hubs that face bearing the brunt of the Westminster government’s decision to slash research funding tied to the overseas aid budget.

The hubs make up about half the £400 million in funding for currently active research grants allocated under the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), according to publicly available data from UK Research and Innovation.

UKRI has said that it could be forced to cancel or severely cut awards for projects supported under schemes such as the GCRF and Newton Fund after reductions in government allocations left it facing a £120 million shortfall.

The interdisciplinary hubs – which are mainly led by UK universities but involve hundreds of partner organisations worldwide – were awarded about £200 million over five years in 2019 to tackle some of world’s most pressing challenges such as climate change.

They represent the vast majority of GCRF-funded projects that have an end date after 2021. Lead institutions include Newcastle University, which is heading two hubs, and the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh.

Figures collated by the hubs themselves suggest that more than 1,060 people are currently employed on contracts tied to their research, while at least 470 academics are leading and managing projects as part of the programmes.

Richard Dawson, professor of earth systems engineering at Newcastle University, who is leading a £18 million hub on water security, said that his team totalled 130, including about 80 researchers “whose contracts are now hanging on by a thread”.

Research carried out by the hub – which involves other UK universities but also works with dozens of institutions, businesses and governments worldwide – was already addressing risks from floods and drought as well as being vital for the pandemic response given it helped ensure communities had access to clean water, he said.

“Severely cutting or cancelling just this project will impact upon the UK’s climate change leadership” at this year’s UK-hosted international summit on the issue and “undermine our commitment to the UN sustainable development goals – including our commitment to deliver water and sanitation for all”, Professor Dawson said.

“Cuts of this scale will also allow other countries to surpass the UK’s leadership in the development and sale of solutions to tackle water security.”  

Professor Dawson added that countries where the research was focused, such as India and Malaysia, were also places where the UK was “currently looking to build stronger trade and collaboration links”.

“By withdrawing our research collaborations, I worry for the longer-term perception of UK science, international trade, and collaboration, if live contracts are so readily annulled.”

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: In danger: 1,000+ jobs

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