Britain’s main government agency for funding research at British universities has suspended grant payments for projects involving scientists in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
The UK Research and Innovation decision affects nearly 50 grants for projects at UK universities, worth a total of tens of millions of pounds.
UKRI sent research project managers to UK universities last week who work with academic institutions in Russia.
“As we wait further [British] on the advice of the government, we are suspending all grant payments with potential Russian partners to seek further information,” UKRI told them.
The move follows informal consultation with the government on the impact of Russia-related sanctions on research projects.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is expected to issue more formal guidance this week for UK universities working with scientists in Russia.
The projects affected by the suspension of UKRI grants cover a wide range of work, from nuclear fusion to hydrology, from animal genetics to planetary science.
The Russian contribution to most projects is small in monetary terms but more substantial in expertise and equipment.
UKRI said in a statement: “We are in close contact with government colleagues to ensure we are taking the most appropriate action. This is a very sensitive time, especially because we have to support and protect individuals. »
Although the UKRI described grant payments as on hold, the UK scientists said they did not expect their collaborations with their Russian counterparts to continue and were trying to find alternative arrangements.
Adrian Muxworthy, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Imperial College London, has been awarded a UKRI grant of £656,752 for a three-year project to study stored magnetic fields in rocks and ancient meteorites with a researcher from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Valera Shcherbakov.
“We have terminated our collaboration with Professor Shcherbakov,” Muxworthy said. “We believe we can still achieve our goals. »
Muxworthy described Shcherbakov as “a great scientist, he will make – or would have made – a valuable intellectual contribution to the project”.
The University of Warwick was among the first UK institutions to announce that it would review links with Russian universities “with a view to terminating contracts where possible”.
Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft said the university reduced its relationship with Russian institutions over the years, but acted quickly after the invasion of Ukraine.
But while Warwick would reduce contracts with Russian universities, Croft said the “personal relationship” involving the two parties would continue.
“I think there will be a lot of soft edges, especially for people who work in laboratory sciences,” he added.
Professor Robin Grimes, nuclear physicist and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, Britain’s leading science academy, said there should be no blanket ban on working with scientists in Russia and that it would be beneficial that certain contacts between academics continue.
Communications between Western scientists and their counterparts in the Soviet Union during the Cold War were beneficial to both sides and some collaboration should continue now, he added.
“For example, we would like to share findings on new Covid variants with our Russian counterparts, and we will continue to exchange weather data,” Grimes said.
Some British scientists said it was unclear at this stage how partnerships with their counterparts at Russian universities would continue.
However, UK universities said they hoped any restrictions would allow for open communication and the chance to collaborate.
“For us, and universities in general, we walk a line between academic freedom, protecting safety and respecting government regulations – and of course that line shifts as these situations change,” said Mary Ryan. , Vice-Rector for Research and Enterprise at Imperial College London.