UCL Research


Funding and sustaining UCL’s research at a time of global uncertainty

15 June 2020

David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), on the importance of continuing to support innovative research funding proposals during the Covid-19 pandemic.

David Price

Over the past few months, we have all had to adapt at unprecedented speed to new ways of living and working, not least in the ways that we are doing research. While there is considerable uncertainty around the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the research funding landscape, I would like to take this opportunity to share some notes of optimism.

Funding application rates have remained steady since remote working began; I’d like to thank you for your hard work in making this possible, while balancing the demands of your work and personal situations. I appreciate that engaging with funding at this time cannot be easy, so I wish to express my appreciation and admiration for whatever you’ve managed to achieve.

The response to COVID-19 has been particularly impressive. There are now 180 live projects across all our faculties investigating coronavirus and its impact. Of these, almost half are externally funded. There have also been impressive responses to internal calls. The COVID-19 Rapid Response (co-supported by the UCL Coronavirus Response Fund) saw over 50 submissions in just its first application round. The COVID-19 Grand Challenge on recovery from the pandemic attracted over 300 expressions of interest and it provides researchers who are unable to make a contribution at present with a way to mobilise their expertise in the future.  

Most funders are still accepting and processing funding applications as usual. Should you need support or guidance, our professional services colleagues in Research Facilitation, Research Services and Departments are continuing to work remotely to provide support in the usual way to take advantage of current and upcoming funding opportunities.

We are in discussions with all major funders and will be continuing to work with them to help them develop strategies that align to UCL’s strengths and interests. You may have read that UKRI has seen a significant uplift in its budget for 2020/21 and we are seeking to understand what that means for us. Where we are aware of funders scaling back their funding, UCL is in discussion with them to get a better picture of the likely implications and timescales of the changes.

We cannot be complacent about the future funding landscape when lockdown is lifted – both our research and our teaching activity may change radically, and both the university’s financial sustainability and the broader economic context of the UK and internationally may result in greater competition for public finances. As I wrote recently, we are also working hard to understand and respond to the longer-term challenges and opportunities this crisis presents to research. This includes how the immediate and long-term impact of the pandemic will affect individual researchers and their careers. I am confident that the work that is happening across UCL will help us plan for and navigate the challenges that lie ahead and will sustain UCL as a world-leading research-led university. The research we do has never been more important.

What our research community and those who support them have achieved in the face of significant challenges is truly commendable, and I’d like to thank each of you for your understanding, adaptability and commitment in making it possible. The amount of work that has been involved in shifting to remote working and developing new approaches to teaching and research cannot be understated.

These may be some of the toughest times that UCL has faced, but I am confident that, together, we can support our world-class research community in their work and the diversity within their ranks, for the benefit of society. The world has benefited from your invention and analysis during the pandemic. It will benefit further from the nearly 300 papers by UCL academics on COVID-19 and its impact, now available on a single open access platform. I am convinced that the world will need all of our insights and expertise more than ever as we emerge from this crisis.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research)