Open letter to government calls for ODA research cuts to be revoked

ODA cuts a ‘threat to the sustainability and credibility of UK research leadership on global challenges’

Well over 2,000 have so far signed an open letter challenging the government to revoke the Official Development Assistance (ODA) cuts to UK research funding, citing this as a “threat to the sustainability and credibility of UK research leadership on global challenges”.

As reported by University Business just last week, “Despite opposition from senior backbenchers, including former prime minister Theresa May, the government will abolish this commitment in response to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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 – extract from Open Letter

However, the letter argues that: “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…” adding that… “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.”

The letter continues: “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… The Covid-19 pandemic has evidenced the value of this integrated approach, both to the UK and to our international partners.”

They have directly impacted the initiation of our project to build school partnerships as a way to bridge the ethnically divided Albanian and Serb communities in post-conflict Kosovo – Edona Maloku, lecturer

Now with a gaping £120m shortfall in ODA funds, many projects are in jeopardy, such as that of Edona Maloku, lecturer, RIT Kosovo (A.U.K). Maloku comments: “They have directly impacted the initiation of our project to build school partnerships as a way to bridge the ethnically divided Albanian and Serb communities in post-conflict Kosovo.

“It is heartbreaking to see that a project that my colleagues and I got, in a highly competitive process, while also working under the pressure of lockdowns (both in Kosovo and the UK) is ultimately cancelled. It weakens an entire network of partners that we have been working so much to build for the past two years. The decision also directly touches the lives of the scholars and practitioners who were counting on this grant, and most of whom are from Kosovo.”

Impact on climate research

The open letter further states: “… the relationships that drive global solutions to these challenges will have a serious impact on climate-facing research ahead of COP26… 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”.

Ironically [this has come] at a time when the pandemic has highlighted that global science is central to fighting global challenges such as the emergence of zoonotic diseases and their prevention by protecting our environment and biodiversity – Professor Federica Di Palma

Professor Federica Di Palma, chief scientific officer & vice president sectors, Genome British Columbia, professional fellow in biodiversity, University of East Anglia, & visiting scientist, The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, echoes this:

“This will clearly negatively impact years of international research and collaborations as well as many scientists’ livelihoods. Ironically [this has come] at a time when the pandemic has highlighted that global science is central to fighting global challenges such as the emergence of zoonotic diseases and their prevention by protecting our environment and biodiversity. These cuts have at once deprioritised research for pandemic preparedness and resilience.”

Researchers resign

As a reaction, to the ODA funding cuts, six researchers have resigned from a UK Research and Innovation advisory group in protest at deep government cuts to research funded through international aid money.

In a letter of resignation sent to government funding agency UKRI on 15 March, the co-chairs of the advisory group to the Arts and Humanities Research Council said they “cannot be associated with or placed in a position of responsibility” in relation to the government’s decision to cut research funding, and that they were “deeply embarrassed…at the blatant disregard of our relationships with overseas partners”.

The open letter will be sent to Dominic Raab and Rishi Sunak on 18 March.


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