International perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on university research




Springer Nature

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Examining the evidence of current and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on research activities within universities.

With scientific endeavour at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, protecting the sustainability of research is more important than ever. Commissioned by Springer Nature, this work provides a preliminary evidence base on both the current and long-term impacts COVID-19 has had on research activities within universities. As nations look to scientists for a pathway out of the current crisis, our report presents the perspectives of 25 senior research leaders and managers, based in Australia, Europe, Singapore and the UK, on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The work focusses on two higher education systems, in the UK and Australia, which are particularly reliant on international student fees to cross-subsidise research. However, many of the findings are equally applicable to higher education and research systems globally, as are the risks of failing to protect investment in these systems over the coming years.

The report explores three key areas: the implications of the pandemic for researchers themselves, the information upon which they rely and the finding on which they depend. Focus is drawn on the early interventions being put in place by universities, research funders and governments to safeguard the research enterprise and, attention is given to the necessary actions to preserve and strengthen research capacity and capability – both through the pandemic and beyond.

This study used a mixed methodology. Firstly, the report is based on interviews with 25 experts and research leaders based in Australia, Europe, South-East Asia and the UK. While speaking in a personal capacity, interviewees shared their direct experience of dealing with the pandemic as research funders, higher education sector representatives, university leaders, academics, research management professionals and librarians. The views of interviewees were supplemented through a rapid evidence assessment of the available literature on the subject, as of September 2020, including (in large part) grey literature, news and opinion pieces from leading figures.

Key findings from this work were clear. The pandemic had a major impact on research production, with multiple effects on access to research information. While the long-term implications of COVID-19 on research funding are unclear, there are worrying signs which point to disadvantages. For example, research funding has been rapidly mobilised to tackle the crisis, however, funder and government support schemes have proved difficult to access. Multiple funding streams are simultaneously under pressure and institutions have little forward visibility upon which to plan. While governments in the UK and Australia have reaffirmed their commitment to invest in research and innovation, their commitment to universities is less certain.