UKRI to present ‘robust evidence’ of ODA efficacy before spending review

Cuts to Official Development Assistance damaged trust and will have a damaging impact on researchers and communities across the world, the report warned

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is gathering “robust evidence” of the impact of Official Development Assistance (ODA) research spending “to make the case for ODA allocation at the next spending review”, it announced in a report on the impact of cuts imposed earlier this year.

The Treasury cut ODA spending in February 2021, reducing the UKRI allocation by 70% to £125 million, a shortfall of £120 million. This reduction included £106.5m for the Global Challenges Research Fund, down from £218.4m, and £18.8m for the Newton Fund £18.8m, down from £24.1m. The decision drew criticism from Universities UK and some in the research community.

Six months on, UKRI has published a report (Thursday 12 April) that details how it implemented the cuts.

“These financial reductions to the UKRI ODA budget will have negative impacts for researchers, research outcomes and the beneficiaries of research across the UK and the world,” the report says. “UKRI has received anecdotal reports of negative impacts such as researchers being made redundant or leaving projects in search of more stable positions. There have also been reports of damage to partnerships and the UK’s reputation.”

In the concluding statement of the report, UKRI announced it would lead “a review into the impact of the cuts surveying the research community”, to conclude in the autumn. The project will inform how UKRI spends future ODA funds, identify ways to mitigate the impacts of the cuts, “and provide robust evidence to make the case for ODA allocation at the next spending review”.

The report explains that, although the 454 active GCRF projects experienced a 49% cut and the 167 ongoing Newton Fund schemes a 24% cut, “at the time of writing of this paper, no GCRF or Newton Fund projects have been terminated early as a result of this process”.

Trust has been damaged and we are determined to work with the sector and government to help rebuild that trust in the UK and beyond
– Christopher Smith, UKRI international champion

“Throughout this process, UKRI has committed to achieving the best possible outcome for the research and innovation community notwithstanding the difficult choices we have had to make,” wrote Christopher Smith, UKRI international champion.

“It has been a collaborative endeavour, with the outcomes critically dependent on a huge amount of hard work from our grant recipients. It has been a painful and upsetting process for grant holders and their partners as we navigated the issues, but we have jointly achieved outcomes that keep as much of the programme as possible underway,” he added.

Smith acknowledged: “Trust has been damaged and we are determined to work with the sector and government to help rebuild that trust in the UK and beyond.”

A report on the ODA cuts published this month by Universities UK International (UUKi) warned ministers: “The UK’s reputation as a trusted partner is severely undermined by such actions.” One university told UUKi that China was seen as more reliable than the UK in the wake of such sudden cuts.

The report explains that UKRI saved £50 million by halting “all in-flight grant applications…including those at very late stages such as grants where a decision had been made to award a grant and communicated to the grant holder, but the commitment had not been formalised”.

Some projects in the fields of climate change and health had better-than-expected outcomes – losing significantly less after the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) bridged shortfalls.

The International Climate Finance (ICF) fund allocated an additional £13.8m to 75 climate-related grants, ensuring 80% of their original 2021/22 allocation. The DHSC agreed £1.6m for joint UKRI programmes in Global Effort for Covid Research (GECO) and the GCRF Global Maternal and Neonatal Health.

Read more: REF panels more diverse but progress uneven

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