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Government Support for Research in Universities during COVID-19 across the World


June 10, 2020 | 7 min read |

Sarah Richardson, Group Editor, Research Professional News

As governments around the world step up measures to ease lockdowns, universities are stepping up preparations for a new academic year – one which will look very different to anything seen before.

Some institutions have already said they will be carrying out all teaching online in the autumn, while others are exploring the feasibility of tutorials being carried out in small groups, or bubbles, where contact between students and faculty is limited.

While university boards grapple with the educational merits – and financial impact – of these approaches, the level of support institutions stand to receive from national governments is beginning to vary across the globe.

In Italy, for example, the government has announced a much-lauded program to fund the hiring of thousands of additional early-career researchers.

In the US, President Donald Trump said he would block a $3 trillion Democrat-proposed Heroes package, which would channel at least $3 billion to academic institutions through the National Institutes of Health to help them absorb coronavirus-related lab shutdown and restart costs. But even this package has been described by research experts as insufficient to meet the costs of closures during the pandemic.

Below is a rundown of the latest headlines on the impact of COVID-19 on research and higher education policy around the world, from our specialist news service Research Professional News.


Interview: This is how the international director of Japan’s Riken network is pushing an era of collaboration with Europe.

A massive swell in COVID-19 funding has left researchers who track R&D spending scrambling to keep up, one expert has warned.

The spread of research into COVID-19 has closely mirrored the spread of the disease, prompting a flurry of papers and clinical trials, according to an analysis from technology company Digital Science.

United States

Democrat lawmakers have accused the Department of Education of “squandering” emergency pandemic relief funding for universities by providing a uniform grant of $500,000, regardless of institutions’ needs.

The White House has launched another public-private partnership to speed up the development, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for COVID-19.Called Operation Warp Speed, the programme, which has been allocated almost $10 billion in federal funding, is intended to have a vaccine ready for US citizens by January 2021.


A group of 400 Italian scientists and academics have urged political leaders to focus on ten main challenges in order to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with a more sustainable economy.

Investing in R&D should be framed as an insurance against the myriad crises European policymakers and society must prepare for, according to an expert panel on the socioeconomic impacts of innovation.

The French government has set up a research institute that will keep alive the memory of the COVID-19 pandemic and study responses to future health emergencies. And researchers at the Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) plan to use Facebook movement-tracking data in a wide-ranging demographic study of possible COVID-19 outbreak hotspots.

Fellows supported by the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions scheme, which provides funding for research projects to develop skills and experience abroad, are pleading with the bloc to provide more money to those among their number whose work has been severely disrupted due to COVID-19.

A €10 billion investment programme proposed by the German research ministry is meant to support innovative companies and research institutions which might struggle under the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

EU research ministers have said the bloc needs to increase its R&D investment as it recovers from the pandemic.

Universities in Finland will accept more students during the current application period, after an appeal to tackle unemployment in the aftermath of COVID-19 from Jari Gustafsson, a permanent secretary in the ministry of economic affairs and employment.

United Kingdom

The release of the minutes of meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on 29 May, unprecedented while an emergency is still ongoing, have provided a unique insight into the advisory group’s evolving thinking on COVID-19.

Higher education careers organisation Vitae has launched another survey looking at the impact of COVID-19 on researchers and the research base in the UK.

The trustworthiness of scientists is likely to be “significantly” affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.

Physical distancing measures will reduce useable on-campus space to just 10-20 per cent of what is normally available, the universities quality watchdog has warned. And universities could lose millions of pounds in tuition fee income if they break new rules about the number of domestic students they can recruit, the UK government has confirmed.

Universities have been given more guidance from the government on how to reopen laboratories, classrooms and accommodation safely next academic year, but some have labelled it a “tick-box exercise”.


The African Union has launched a plan to dramatically increase COVID-19 testing over the next few months.

Universities in South Africa are slowly reopening, but the process will unfold differently at different institutions. Some are welcoming some students back in early June, while others will wait until next month to do so.

Australia and New Zealand

The University of Auckland has launched two student education centres in China that will combine online course material with group tutorials at Chinese universities, to provide a way to continue tertiary courses for more than 1,000 students who were unable to travel from China to New Zealand because of COVID-19 restrictions.

University of Canterbury engineers have developed a low-cost technology that will increase the capacity of hospitals to treat COVID-19 cases by allowing two patients to use the same ventilator.

Veterinary scientists from Charles Sturt University are to lead a three-year training program to help prevent the spread of animal diseases in five Pacific Islands countries, given that the COVID-19 pandemic—which is thought to have originated from wildlife—has highlighted the importance of animal health education.

Australians aged 16 to 34 have experienced an increase in mental distress as a result of financial difficulties caused by COVID-19 restrictions, a survey by the Australian National University has found.

New Zealand’s government has announced a $60 million funding package for libraries as part of the country’s COVID-19 community recovery plans.

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