Written evidence submitted by UK Research and Innovation (MRS0507)

 

  1. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

 

  1. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UKRI brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England funding the breadth of research and innovation as well as supporting universities through Quality-research (QR) funding. institutions.

 

  1. As a major public funder, employer and leader of research and innovation, our current priorities are to:
    1. Support our people and maintain business continuity as much as possible (e.g. we’re working to minimise disruption to funding streams and other core functions).
    2. Contribute to the national effort to deal with Covid-19 through an ongoing open multidisciplinary call for research across both research and innovation and specifically, in:
      1. supporting cutting edge research (e.g. vaccines, testing, therapeutics, tech)
      2. mobilising industry support (e.g. to scale up numbers of available ventilators)
      3. reinforcing government decision-making by facilitating access to expertise (e.g. modelling the spread of the outbreak)
      4. addressing and mitigating the social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the pandemic.
    3. Stabilise the wider research and innovation system: We are keen to understand the different pressures and impacts on stakeholders and are working with our partners, other parts of Government and our stakeholder communities to identify where UKRI can support and develop appropriate policy responses to support the R&I sector.
    4. Review our longer-term strategy to adapt to circumstances and contribute to larger conversations post-Covid-19.

 

Introduction

 

  1. Like every part of society, the research and innovation system is facing great uncertainty which will affect individuals and groups in different ways. UKRI recognises that most researchers and innovators are now having to deal with very difficult and different sets of circumstances, such as major interruptions to their work or rapidly transitioning their research and innovation activities to address or mitigate the impacts of Covid-19. These difficulties can range from a researcher just setting out on their career, a lab technician critical to delivering research, or the founder of a small business exploring new innovations. These challenges are occurring, for some people, alongside concerns for both their own and their families’ health and wellbeing, particularly for those who are considered vulnerable and needing to shield.

 

  1. UKRI is in daily contact with central government, working across different departments and liaising closely with institutions and representative groups to ensure that we are listening to the concerns of the organisations and individuals we fund and work with to produce sustainable solutions. This inquiry presents an opportunity to listen to others as well as to hear the perspectives of particular sectors. We welcome this inquiry to consider the evidence and discuss ways to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on those with protected characteristics.

 

  1. Given the nature of a pandemic, there is a need to take quick decisions as new issues and challenges emerge. UKRI is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion and we are taking action to identify, monitor, understand and address the impact Covid-19 is having on particular individuals and groups. This is being done at three levels:

 

Funding:

Monitor and understand:

 

Guidance and advice:

 

Impacts of Covid-19 on individuals or groups

 

  1. Some disciplines are managing to adjust to the virtual world with institutions and businesses doing what they can to redirect research efforts to Covid-19. However, whilst the pandemic will affect everyone in some form, there is some emerging evidence[4] and observations that some groups are more likely to be affected in a research and innovation environment than others.

 

  1. UKRI anticipates that a number of these issues will be mitigated at the institutional or senior management level in business, for example, through local policies and the support either they or government are providing (including furlough for businesses). UKRI is working closely with those in receipt of funding to ensure consistency and fairness in approach of these policies through regular discussions and efficient reporting and monitoring.
  2. We have worked closely with our EDI External Advisory Group, which consists of a diverse set of members from across the R&D landscape, as well as listening to our communities, to outline some of the impacts that we are aware of. To fully understand these impacts UKRI would encourage investigations and furthering monitoring into these areas. These include:
  3. Disability:

 

  1. Age: The impact of Covid-19 in research and innovation can affect individuals of all ages and examples of this include:

 

  1. Sex (Gender):  There are increasing conversations being had about productivity. Frequently, the discussion revolves around outputs, i.e. journal article submissions and grant applications. There has been some interest in tracking any differences in these rates by gender categories. Some anecdotal evidence[7] suggests men are submitting up to 50% more papers and journals than they usually would with women submitting fewer papers. Therefore, whilst this emerging evidence is helpful, further observing and monitoring is required. UKRI will be monitoring this through a year on year comparison of who is applying for our funding and is in receipt of our grants. If there are any changes, we want to be clear which are normal fluctuations due to research cycles and what may reflect impacts of Covid-19.

 

  1. Maternity and pregnancy: There is likely to be an impact on women recently returning to their research from maternity leave who will be faced with losing ‘another year’ away from their research.

 

  1. In addition, there are likely to be pregnant women who may have health concerns and precarity during this time or may have been due to give birth after a project has ended and are now facing an extension or are unable to complete their research project at all. More advice will be needed from government on the impact of Covid-19 on pregnant women.

 

  1. UKRI is working to mitigate these effects and is continuing to engage with the research and innovation community to monitor and further develop our understanding of the impacts on particular groups and individuals. Whilst some of the points raised are observations at this stage, we recognise that these will need further research and understanding to be effectively addressed.

 

  1. UKRI would encourage a cross comparison of impacts across sectors to establish a strong evidence base and stimulate discussions about changes to policy and mitigation efforts. We will continue to provide advice to government and cross-government bodies as we obtain additional information and analysis.

 

 

July 2020

 

 


[1] Joint UKRI/NIHR funding call on Covid-19 and ethnicity

[2] SMARTEN Survey

[3] https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/resource/practical-application-of-ukcdr-safeguarding-guidance-during-covid-19/

[4] https://mspgh.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/3334889/Policy-brief_v3.pdf

[5] https://www.smarten.org.uk/covhid-19-study.html

[6] https://www.smarten.org.uk/covid-19-study.html#

[7] https://www.thelily.com/women-academics-seem-to-be-submitting-fewer-papers-during-coronavirus-never-seen-anything-like-it-says-one-editor/