Impact of lockdown on researchers in UK – findings announced


Female wearing mask on train

Findings from a nationwide survey about the implications of Covid-19 on the activities of researchers and research groups have been published today.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned Vitae, supported by UKRI and Universities UK, to gather evidence of the experiences of researchers during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The survey attracted 8,416 respondents from researchers working in universities and research institutes in the UK.

Findings reveal that the lockdown had resulted in more polarised working hours, with about 40% of respondents, especially early career researchers, reporting a decrease in their working hours while 20% reported an increase. Four in ten researchers had reduced research capacity due to their caring responsibilities while over three in ten had reduced research capacity so as to manage an increased teaching load. 45% of respondents anticipated a decrease in their research funding over the next year, with 75% of those funded by industry expecting a decrease in funding.

If six more months of social distancing was required, 70% anticipated less capacity for research due to caring responsibilities, with a similar proportion expecting an adverse effect on publications,  Research group leaders estimated that without costed extensions to research funding, 25% of their team could have their employment ended, and 8% could be furloughed. Over half anticipated the loss of fixed term researchers from their groups.

Respondents from research intensive universities, and from medical and STEM disciplines, predicted higher levels of furlough and employment ending for their team. If social distancing continues, women, part-time workers and those on fixed-term contracts were most concerned about their employment ending. 

Respondents suggested that help could be provided in the following areas:

  • Improving access to facilities
  • Encouraging collaboration amongst research groups to make the most of limited access to facilities
  • Extensions to projects and funding
  • Making concessions for any reduction in research quality

Over half of respondents agreed that their employer had supported them through lockdown, though this was lower for those with disabilities.

Dr Janet Metcalfe, Head of Vitae, quoted: “COVID-19 has had a significant impact on research activities, not least for early career researchers. This impact has also been disproportionally felt by researchers with caring responsibilities. In adapting to this new research environment we need ensure that all researchers can thrive irrespective of their personal circumstances.

The findings can be read in full here