The Cabot Institute position regarding the cuts in the UKRI budget for ODA research
13 April 2021
UKRI has had a substantial cut in its budget for Official Development Assistance (ODA) research. This has now caused serious shortfalls in the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), with substantial impacts on the quality of international research and the reputation of the UK research community with partners across the world.
The cuts are a consequence in part because of the contraction in the UK economy because of COVID, but greatly amplified by the Government’s decision not to meet the 0.7% spending target on aid and by decisions made in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
We understand that given these cuts hard choices must be made, and that research is not exempt from trade-offs. But we are greatly concerned that, to date, the decisions made pay little regard to the value of research in an effective international development strategy and the importance of the more equitable partnerships that research promotes. The cuts made by BEIS to the UKRI ODA research budget go beyond pro-rata reductions from a smaller aid budget. The size of these cuts is substantially more than those made by other Government Departments that fund ODA research. It is not clear why this is the case and the lack of consultation with the research community before these decisions were made does not follow best practice when Government departments make major changes in funding or policy.
The reduction in the UKRI ODA budget and the research it supports will damage the reputation of UK as funder of global research. As Universities are asked to find ways to cut research projects with no guarantee of funding in future years, our partners are becoming less willing to work with UK funding in the future. They doubt that funding promises will be kept. We understand that UKRI has been put in a difficult position. However, the approach being adopted does not adequately consider the impact on our partners in low- and middle-income countries, which is being largely left to universities to manage as they see fit. Our research partners have their own partnerships with national governments and civil society that they brought to our research collaboration and these will be damaged by such drastic cuts to research funding.
We wholeheartedly support the government's stated aim of making the UK a science superpower. However, this reduction in the UKRI ODA budget threatens this ambition.
We ask UKRI to look again across its research budget and find resources that can be directed to make up some of the shortfall in the budget allocation from BEIS. We also ask that UKRI commit that existing GCRF projects will have their funding restored from April 2022. Finally, we ask that UKRI engage more effectively and fully with the academic community, both in relation to these cuts, and in how they lobby for ODA research ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review.
Ultimately, the cuts by UKRI will impact on the development benefits of research. Less will be achieved. We call on the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) and the Parliamentary Select Committee on International Development (IDC) to consider how these cuts affect UKAid more widely, and the impact on the UK’s reputation as a predictable funder and partner on international development.