Universities in the UK will receive £280m government rescue funding, as the sector struggles to keep research and innovation afloat in the face of potentially severe cuts resulting from coronavirus.
The government announced a double package of measures on Saturday, made available for “high priority” research in areas such as medicine, by universities that were “taking their own steps to make efficiencies”.
To cover up to 80 per cent of income lost by a fall in international students, research-active universities will be able to access long-term, low interest loans, supplemented by a smaller amount of government grant funding.
In addition, the government has committed £200m in new money toward research costs such as salaries and research equipment, alongside £80m from UK Research & Innovation, a government-supported body representing the UK’s big research councils.
The government said research that would benefit from funding would include work on antibiotic resistance, technology tackling waste and environmental degradation, and the impact of the pandemic on society.
“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,” business secretary Alok Sharma said.
The announcement follows calls for a comprehensive bailout for the higher education sector. That had sought £2bn for research in the face of what could be a dramatic fall in international student numbers and private and charitable income, likely to dramatically reduce budgets in the coming year.
The government announced last month it would shore up university finances by advancing tuition fees to the tune of £2.6bn, but committed only £100m for research, in anticipation of the review into support for the sector.
Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said the rescue package reflected the government’s determination to underwrite the UK’s research base to facilitate recovery from the crisis.
“It is not everything the sector would have liked, true, but it is a clear statement of support for the research sector and it demonstrates that the government did listen carefully to our concerns,” he said.
“The sector is genuinely grateful, and this package demonstrates the extent to which the university research base is important to the country’s recovery.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said the representative body would work with government on working out the fuller details of what it called a “timely and welcome” package.
The Russell Group, including 24 researched-focused universities, agreed the release of additional loans and grants was needed “as a bridge to a more sustainable future for research” but said it would need to “understand more” about the rules that would apply to funding.
“We look forward to continuing work with Government on its road map to deliver a science superpower future,” Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the group said. “Key to that will be moving towards a more sustainable operating model for research backed up with wider measures to boost collaborative research in the UK and with partners across the globe.”