Government ODA cuts to UK research funding: a threat to the  sustainability and credibility of UK research leadership on global challenges

The global pandemic has pointed to the fundamental role that inequalities and poverty have to play in amplifying negative outcomes from external shocks such as epidemics, resource shortage, hazardous events or conflict.  No longer can we afford to tackle any one problem in isolation: our sustainable global future relies on international solutions to the complex challenges enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Allocating Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds to UK Research and Innovation has allowed the UK to to play a major role in tackling these global challenges. 

To date, this funding has generated opportunities for researchers from the UK to work together with those in Lower and Middle Income Countries to generate lasting solutions with global reach. ODA research represents Britain at its best and allows UK researchers to work in partnership internationally across disciplines to address complex societal problems, equitably.  Research of this nature  cannot be achieved without equitable partnerships that reach beyond the walls of academia into communities, industries and governmental and non-governmental organisations. Collectively these funds are now working in > 100 countries involving > 2,500 researchers developing stronger relationships with the very groups  with whom the UK wishes to strengthen and deepen links.  This was a forward thinking, truly international outlook. The Covid-19 pandemic has evidenced the value of this integrated approach, both to the UK and to our international partners. 

Thus, in our collective view, the decimation of this vital funding stream will have drastic impacts. This international cooperation is vital to the UK Government’s vision for the UK as a global force in research and development, acting as a powerhouse of ideas and solutions. ODA-funded UK researchers work in trusted partnerships with and for communities towards shared aspirations for better collective futures.  So, as well as directly threatening the futures of the vulnerable and marginalised that this funding targets, the resultant abrupt termination of research projects will obliterate the hard-won trust with international development partners and governments overseas.

Many projects are now in jeopardy and, just as importantly, so are the relationships that drive global solutions to these challenges. This  will have a serious impact on climate-facing research directly ahead of COP26. It also undermines the development of  climate-ready solutions and policies transferable to the UK context as well as the national security that arises from nurturing sustainable global development. There is now a generation of new global researchers and practitioners who are facing the prospect of the abrupt termination of contracts, and cessation of research, before they are able to produce the outputs essential to the development of their careers, jeopardising jobs both in the UK and abroad at a time of national and international crisis. 

We deplore the short-term view of this research funding, that has created an unprecedented decision to shut down and ‘reprofile’ approved and competitively-funded projects. This is an action from which it will be hard to recover. We call for an immediate reversal of this decision, maintaining this opportunity for the UK to sustain its profile in  leading research to tackle global challenges. 

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