DSA statement: Three guiding principles for UKRI and institutions to minimise the impact of the ODA cuts to grant holders
The Development Studies Association remains firmly opposed to the savage ODA cuts to UKRI funding that the government recently announced. We continue to work closely with other learned associations and academic colleagues to advocate for the reversal of these cuts and for the UK government to reinstate its strong commitment to support the world-leading international research required to address global development challenges.
Meanwhile, negotiations between UKRI, universities and grant holders on how to handle the fallout from these cuts have already begun. ODA-funded research has come to form a critical part of the research portfolios of many UK universities; it generates high-quality research and offers them a chance to build strong partnerships with organisations and individuals in the global south and achieve high-levels of impact. It now also plays an important part in deepening and globalising their social responsibility mandates and contribution to the SDGs. Maintaining high levels of international research activities is in the collective interests of the UK Universities, as well as the UK government, international partners and ultimately communities in ODA countries who benefit from more evidence based and effective programmes.
Here we set out three key principles that we hope can inform these negotiations and minimise their damage, particularly to research partners in the global south.
Do no harm
- UKRI and Universities should adopt a ‘do no harm’ ethical stance, especially when research involves contact with vulnerable or at-risk individuals or groups.
- Grants that involve a significant role for researchers and research institutions in the global south, particularly within low- and lower-middle income countries, should be prioritised for protection. Contracts with international partners should be afforded the same protection as those involving UK-based researchers and institutions. This is essential on ethical grounds and also in terms of maintaining trust and avoiding reputational damage to the UK research sector.
- Grants involving early career researchers should also be prioritised. Removing research opportunities from this key cohort would do disproportionate harm to individuals, to the future of the profession and therefore to future research and innovation.
- UKRI and universities need to operate with maximum flexibility. This includes enabling funds to be moved between budget categories and the use of other funding streams to offset the damage done to ODA-funded projects. UKRI should be as flexible as possible in terms of enabling existing projects to extend beyond their original timeframe in order for commitments and key activities to be maintained.
- For projects that are already underway to have impact on policy and value for money secured, UKRI should make some provision to allow grant monies to be reprofiled into the next year. However, greater clarity is required around what risks such future ‘reprofiling’ might have for grant holders if they choose this as their primary option
- Where relevant, no-cost extensions should be allowed and savings from reductions in travel over the past year be counted as cost savings, so that other project expenses and contracts may be protected.
Open and transparent
- The principles employed by UKRI and universities to make decisions and the decision-making process itself should be rendered in an open and transparent manner.
In short, we call for a fair, flexible and accountable system of decision-making. One that doesn’t privilege certain disciplines or topics and where due strong consideration is given to reducing the impacts on international partnerships with researchers and research institutions in low- and lower-middle income countries.
Moving forward, we urge UKRI and BEIS to re-affirm their strong commitment to promoting interdisciplinary, collaborative research on key global development challenges. The Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was right to identify ‘Science, research and technology‘ as one of the main seven global challenges that the UK is well-placed to address. This can only be realised if government reverses these cuts and re-commits to funding international development research in line with the ambitions set out in the Integrated Review. Meanwhile, the DSA calls on UKRI and UK universities and research institutions to take the urgent steps now required to minimise the damage that these cuts, if implemented, will do to UK research and research partnerships, to development policy and to any prospect of ‘global Britain’.
On behalf of the DSA and Heads of Development Studies centres across the UK.