Sarah Richardson, Group Editor, Research Professional News
The biggest story over the past week has been President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold millions of dollars in funding from the World Health Organization, despite the body’s status at the heart of the fight against COVID-19. The decision has been criticized by researchers in the U.S. and worldwide.
Days after Trump’s decision, scientists and senior figures from research funding bodies and companies across the globe signed an open letter pledging to “continue efforts to strengthen the unprecedented worldwide collaboration, cooperation and sharing of data already underway.”
The move follows the April 9 draft publication of the WHO’s research and development blueprint for COVID-19 treatments, which lays out plans for a massive international clinical trial involving numerous centers and hospitals around the world. The trial aims to whittle down the most promising treatments, evaluating candidate vaccines in between three to six months.
Meanwhile, several countries have tentatively started easing lockdown measures after seeing a slowing in the number of deaths due to COVID-19 and cases of the disease, but others remain firmly in the grip of the pandemic. As work to develop a vaccine continues, pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi have joined forces in their efforts.
Here is a rundown of the latest on the impact of COVID-19 on the research and higher education sector globally, from our Research Professional News service.
The Department of Education has announced the distribution of billions of dollars in emergency federal funding intended to help students cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 22,000 lives in the US.
The US is by far the biggest global spender on research on coronaviruses, followed by the funding direct from European Union in second and from the UK in third place, according to an analysis of global grants.
The president of the European Research Council, Mauro Ferrari, resigned three months into his role, after the governing board of the flagship funder rejected his proposal for a special funding program for research into COVID-19. The ERC cannot legally dictate funding themes to researchers, according to MEP Christian Ehler, a political coordinator for the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament’s research committee and a lead on the legislation underpinning the EU’s R&D program.
A group of industry associations has expressed concern about an “increase in government restrictions” affecting the trade of medical supplies in Europe and around the world, warning it could hamper healthcare and clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
EU leaders have put forward a ‘roadmap’ for national governments to work from regarding when and how to lift restrictions put in place to manage the pandemic, stressing that such moves must be coordinated and “based on science”.
MEPs have criticized the European Commission for not being clear enough about the measures it has put in place to support the 165,000 students participating in the EU’s Erasmus+ mobility scheme during the pandemic. And EU politicians have acknowledged problems with the bloc’s rapid shift to online learning following the closure of institutions, and pledged to support students and teachers still struggling to work remotely.
In an opinion piece for Research Professional News, Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, says society’s response to coronavirus must be as radical as the pandemic’s impact.
Theodore Papazoglou, who led a unit of the European Research Council Executive Agency responsible for administering ERC grants, has died after contracting COVID-19.
Neil Ferguson, the professor at Imperial College London whose research has been key to the UK lockdown strategy, has said he has not seen evidence of a coherent strategy to exit the coronavirus-driven shutdown of the country.
Regulator the Office for Students confirmed that the pandemic has delayed the publication of the subject-level Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework pilot results.
The Knowledge Exchange Framework has also been delayed by the pandemic. The original deadline for submission of KEF narrative statements of 29 May this year has now been pushed back to 16 October, along with a shake-up of knowledge exchange funding from Research England.
Funders the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation postponed community engagement over their open-access policies due to coronavirus, and universities were urged to diversify their international student intake and rely less on China.
Final-year PhD students funded by UK Research and Innovation will be provided with additional support if their studies have been disrupted by the pandemic, according to the funder. But the promise does not go far enough, students fretting over disruptions to their research have told Research Professional News.
However, in some good news, the UK chancellor has said he wants to boost support for research after the COVID-19 crisis.
Weaknesses in Africa’s education systems are being worsened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, science and education ministers from a handful of countries have warned.
Two UK funders are supporting projects to study COVID-19 in Africa. And an international open-access journal on neglected diseases has called on African researchers to submit papers on COVID-19.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia’s universities are to provide online microcredential courses to retrain up to 20,000 unemployed workers in critical areas—including health and technology services—as part of a COVID-19 higher education relief package announced by education minister Dan Tehan.
But the elite Group of Eight universities have said the federal government’s relief package for higher education is “too narrow” to support research.
New Zealand’s government has announced a tertiary education support package to help domestic students continue their courses during the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown.
April 20, 2020