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Helping MRC grant holders through a crisis

by Guest Author on 24 Jul 2020

MRC Head of Operations, Sarah Collinge, shares some of her experiences about how funders are developing new ways to try and help researchers, like the UKRI COVID-19 Grant Extension Allocation.

Recent months as MRC Head of Funding Operations have been unprecedented and busy, grappling with urgently awarding new funding to research the coronavirus pandemic, while also thinking how to help our existing grant holders through and back to some form of normality. All with a toddler to keep entertained! I imagine our grant holders have similarly never known a time like it and we certainly aren’t close to returning to our normal working lives.

Checking Test Tubes

The UKRI COVID-19 Grant Extension Allocation was announced in late June, although behind the UKRI scenes we had been working on it for many weeks. I think my first involvement was around 20 April. I certainly found UKRI determined to act together more than ever. The aim was to find a way to get additional funding simply, quickly and flexibly to grant holders whose research has been disrupted. £180m in new funding will be given to UK research organisations and new flexibility allowed to move funding from one UKRI grant to another.

The grant extension allocation is new territory, for us, for research organisations and for grant holders. Questions about it are inevitable, we are working on the answers and I encourage you to find out more.

If you are an MRC grant holder how can you benefit from this fund?

The short answer is if your research has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic you could get funding help via the allocation and you should ask your research organisation to find out. Each organisation will follow a process agreed with UKRI to distribute the fund. We expect helping grants due to end by March 2021 to be the priority, so these are most likely to benefit, but any active MRC grant in the UK could get additional funding, if now at risk of being unable to achieve its outcomes.

I helped to provide information on around 1500 MRC grants while the allocation was being developed and this helped to calculate how much each research organisation has received. Included were MRC research grants, new investigator grants, programmes, partnerships, fellowships, translation grants, centres and units – 95% of our active grants went into the process.

What isn’t included

Some things can’t benefit through and this is either because they are supported elsewhere, or to avoid confusing different types of government funding. So MRC PhD students (including Clinical Research Training Fellows) are being supported in other ways. The allocation is limited to UK researchers, although we negotiated an exemption allowing MRC clinical trials overseas to benefit through the allocation.

There are restrictions on using the allocation if any staff on a grant have been furloughed and the funding can’t help cover the costs of disruption after September 2021.

So read up on the UKRI grant extension allocation, especially the FAQs. Go and talk to your research organisation about how they will be distributing the fund and how as an MRC grant holder you can access it.


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