Alok Sharma unveils COVID-19 support package for UK universities

(Photo of Alok Sharma by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images).
(Photo of Alok Sharma by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images).

Britain’s business secretary, Alok Sharma, on Saturday unveiled a support package to protect the jobs of highly skilled researchers, scientists and technicians working at UK universities to counter the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

Around £200 million in new UK government investment will be made immediately available to support researchers’ salaries and other costs, such as laboratory equipment and fieldwork.

From later this year, research-active universities across the UK that have been impacted by the pandemic will be able to access long term, low interest loans, supplemented by a small amount of government grants, covering up to 80 per cent of their income losses caused by any actual decline in international students.

“The brilliance of our talented researchers and scientists has been absolutely critical not only to our medical response to coronavirus but also as we begin to emerge from this pandemic and support the UK’s economic recovery,” said Sharma.

“The support we are putting in place will give our world-leading universities a lifeline by protecting jobs to ensure our best minds can continue discovering new innovations that will benefit us all for generations to come,” he said.

The support is aimed at helping universities retain research talent and protect innovative, ground-breaking projects across the country.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will also redistribute up to a further £80 million of existing funding to support research and development (R&D) at these institutions.

UK universities  minister Michelle Donelan said: “Our world leading universities and the scientific research they undertake are a truly vital part of the UK’s society and our economy and will continue to be so as we start to recover from coronavirus.

“We understand the difficulties universities are facing right now, which is why we announced a range of measures last month to ease financial pressures, and now I am delighted we are able to offer universities further financial support to protect vital research.”

The funding will be available to bolster those universities who are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases.

The package will be made available to fund research and high priority projects, such as medical research, in order to support universities to continue to be at the cutting edge of innovation.

“Coronavirus has shown us all the importance of the UK”s world-class R&D ecosystem. It has also highlighted the inspirational dedication of our brilliant scientists and researchers,” said UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

“This package will protect thousands of highly skilled jobs and ensure the UK’s research community continue their vital work to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our society today, like tackling climate change, unlocking medical discovery and unleashing game-changing new technologies,” she said.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said its support schemes will ensure universities facing difficult financial decisions, in line with the rest of the economy, can offer job security to up-and-coming researchers and are able to progress their cutting-edge work, such as research into the effects of coronavirus on our wider society, antibiotics resistance, and new tech solutions to tackle plastic waste and climate change.

Sharma also unveiled a new Sustainable Innovation Fund for companies across all parts of the UK who need urgent financial support to keep their cutting-edge projects and ideas alive.

The £200 million fund could go towards developing new technologies focused on making homes and offices more energy efficient to cut bills, creating ground-breaking medical technologies to treat infections and diseases, or reducing the carbon footprint of public transport in our towns and cities.

“Today I am urging businesses in all parts of the UK to come forward and pitch their state-of-the-art ideas to us, so we can work together to power the UK’s economic recovery,” said Sharma.

He said the Sustainable Innovation Fund will help power the UK’s economic recovery and develop new sustainable opportunities for businesses in any sector following the coronavirus pandemic, while helping the UK meet its ambitions to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.