UK’s cut to research funding from overseas aid hits 70 per cent

Allocation of £422 million last year cut to £125 million this year

March 18, 2021

Cuts to overseas research grants provided by the UK’s foreign aid budget are worse than thought, with funding set to be slashed by almost £300 million, or 70 per cent, Times Higher Education can reveal.

The decision by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to halt funding later this year for most projects supported under schemes such as the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund, after reductions in government allocations left it facing a £120 million shortfall, has sent shockwaves through the country’s research sector this week, leading to condemnation by researchers and sector leaders alike.

More than 3,600 academics have now signed an open letter condemning the “unprecedented” decision to pull the funding, likely to lead to the cancellation of numerous projects in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Cuts to international research projects were thought to be in line with the 49 per cent reduction in funding provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of its overseas aid commitments, which was announced in January by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.

However, the cuts to the GCRF and Newton Fund will actually be 70 per cent, THE can confirm.

According to figures provided by UKRI, the funding agency received a BEIS overseas development aid allocation of £422 million in 2020-21, from June onwards, of which £367 million went to the GCRF and £55 million to the Newton Fund.

This year, its total allocation for 2021-22 will be just £125 million, representing a 70 per cent reduction in funding.

The disproportionately high cut is because green initiatives to cut carbon emissions in low- and middle-income countries, known as international climate finance, which were also funded from BEIS’ foreign aid budget, have been more protected following the government’s decision to abandon its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas development aid because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on public finances, reducing it to 0.5 per cent for next year.

Sir Richard Catlow, foreign secretary at the Royal Society, which received £15 million from the GCRF and £6 million last year from the Newton Fund, used to provide fellowships for early career researchers in Africa, said the society’s programmes were being cut by about 70 per cent.

Condemning the “deep cuts”, Sir Richard said the society will “no longer be able to fund an emerging generation of leading African scientists, some of whom have turned their talents and attention to the Covid pandemic in the past year, and others who are working on the ongoing crises of climate change”.

“While we battle a once in a generation pandemic, and with the UK at the helm of the G7 and COP 26 summits, now is not the time to withdraw funding from a talented pool of researchers who have much to offer the UK and the world,” said Sir Richard.

“Science is at the heart of many of the solutions we desperately need right now. To solve our biggest challenges, the UK government needs to continue to invest in and grow science talent around the globe, not step back from this role,” he said.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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